The Help

The Help – Book Version

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The HelpI loved the movie that much that I had to read the book.  I also love the ability to “borrow” an audiobook from your library.  I knew that I would not have a lot of time to sit down and read, but I have an almost 30 minute commute to work, so I figured I would take advantage of that.  The book turned out to be so good, that I have barely put my iPod down.

If you want the basic premise of the book, see my film review.  Honestly, my mom was right.  The film was probably one of the best adaptations I’ve seen in a long time.  They kept all the good parts, changed the few things that would help it flow better on screen, and really emphasized those characters that were most important.  I would have liked to see the good that came out of the book they published, such as one of Skeeter’s old friends feeling good about what her maid said.  They don’t really tell you in the movie, but some of the maids had good things to say about their bosses, and some of them had really good relationships.  Another maid tells Aibilene that because of the book, her “white lady” sits her down and asks if she had treated her as badly.  It led to discussion, to good things, and I wish the movie had been better able to portray that.

Another thing I loved about the novel was the friendships that the women developed.  Aibilene and Skeeter’s was perhaps the deepest and most touching.  Sure, in the film, they talk and are friendly, but I don’t think it shows you just how close of a relationship that they develop.  I know that if you are only given two and a half hours, that things will be glossed over.  Which is why I love books.  They are so much richer, so much deeper.  The movie in this case gives you a mighty good taste of the story, but the book provides the full meal of it.

If possible, you also hate Hilly even more in the book.  Bryce Dallas Howard really did do a good job with that role.  Elizabeth is a lot more sympathetic, and you understand a lot more the power Hilly holds over these women in her area and just how brave Skeeter was to do anything to upset that.  It’s another thing the film glosses over, Skeeter’s ostracization.  Even though Skeeter is never really in a lot of danger, before the book is published Hilly makes sure she has no friends, no respect, and she tries to keep Stewart away, too.  All because Skeeter pulls the toilet prank and has the Jim Crowe laws in her bag.  Two small things, but it drives the wedge that the book just makes wider.  *SPOILER* (Ok, if someone had told people to leave used toilets in my yard, too, I would be pretty mad.) *SPOILER*

The audiobook was fun because it is read in four separate voices:  Aibilene, Minny, Skeeter, and a narrator.  The narrator only steps in for the banquet scene.  I thought it was odd at first, but mostly because I was used to the dialogue (especially Celia Foote’s) in certain reader’s voices.  For a scene like that, where you would miss out on something if you were in one person’s head, it made complete sense.  And this way, you got to see every little detail better than a fly on the wall.  Minny was voiced by Octavia Spencer, the actress who plays her in the film.  She in particular just jumps out of your headphones, grabbing your attention.  I loved them all, though.

The actual writing was very good, too.  Stockett really captured the different dialects used, the rhythms of speech, and the words that would have been chosen.  It reads smoothly, and even though there are grammatical errors in the speech, you don’t mind because that is so true to the character narrating the piece.

My only complaint about the book was it was hard to follow the timeline.  Since you start off with Aibilene for quite some time, and then switch back and forth between the other two, you sometimes jump back and forth in time.  It’s not a huge struggle, but it does make it a little hard to follow.  That is the danger in having more than one narrator, though.  And most of my confusion probably rested in me listening to the book instead of reading it.

If you went and saw the movie, you really need to pick up the book.  It is a rare treat to find something original, thought-provoking, and so alive with characters.

Rating: 9/10  A really fantastic novel.

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The Help (Film Version)

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I am a bit nervous, because this is the first time I will review a film for the blog.  Hopefully I don’t bomb it.

Main Cast:

Emma Stone – Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan
Viola Davis – Aibileen Clark
Octavia Spencer – Minny Jackson
Bryce Dallas Howard – Hilly Holbrook
Allison Janney – Charlotte Phelan
Jessica Chastain – Celia Foote
Sissy Spacek – Missus Walters

The Help focuses on three women from very different backgrounds.  The movie opens with one woman sharing her story with another, and then we go back to watch the events unfold.  Skeeter (real name Eugenia, so no wonder she goes by Skeeter) is a recent graduate of Ole Miss and wants to be a writer.  She also happens to be white and from Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s.  If you are unfamiliar with just how awful things were at that time, it would be hard for you to have some perspective on just how risky her endeavors were.  We then get to know Aibilene, an African American maid who happens to work for one of Skeeter’s friends.  Their friendship starts off with Skeeter asking for cleaning advice, since her first job is to write the housekeeping column for the local paper.  But when Skeeter begins to see how horribly her supposed friends treat their maids, she gets another idea.  To write about the women’s day to day lives, the terrible things their employers put them all through.  Other maids are reluctant to share or even talk to Skeeter, but soon Minny comes around.  And when a local woman is arrested, ten more women step up to share their own stories.  The resultant book creates waves in Jackson, but because it is published anonymously, the white can only speculate.

My mom and I went to this, and she had read the book beforehand.  I have not, mainly because I wanted a fresh approach when I went to the film (and partly because I’ve been reading everything else lately).  She loved the adaptation and was so grateful that they were able to translate it so well to the screen.  I loved the movie simply because it was so inspiring.

I grew up in the States, so I was taught American history, which in the 1990s, was pretty candid about the horrors African Americans faced in Jackson.  In a lot of ways, I came to The Help thinking a lot of Matched or The Hunger Games.  They were societies who needed change, but one person had to spark that fire, had to stand up and admit that something was wrong.  You get to witness these three women come to the realization of just how awful the situation is, and you get to see them grow strong and stand up for what they deserve.  Like those YA novels, they begin their journeys accepting what their life is, but by the end, they have learned that their dreams do not lie beyond their grasp as they once thought.

The marketing might have touted Emma Stone (Skeeter) as their star, but this movie belongs to Viola Davis (Aibilene) and Octavia Spencer (Minny).  Skeeter’s growth is wonderful, but she already had so much sensitivity towards the subject that she doesn’t really change.  She just begins to stand up for it more, to have less fear for the friendships that she has with these women.  It is Aibilene and Minny that we enjoy watching.  Aibilene because she finds the courage to light the fire with the match offered to her by Skeeter.  And Minny for joining, for knowing how dangerous it is, and for fighting back.

The acting was superb.  Emma Stone plays snarky in most of her movies, but she was scaled back here.  Sure, Skeeter gets her moments, but Stone showed a new level that we have not gotten to see yet.  Viola Davis was so understated that you forgot you were watching someone act.  She embodied her character and made Aibilene her own.  It was her character’s story that narrated the movie, and Davis did it justice.  In a world where some actors think, “the bigger, the better,” it was wonderful seeing someone so personal.  Octavia Spencer, however, really steals the show.  Minny provides some comic relief, but she is so opinionated that you gravitate towards her.  And when you watch Minny bond with her new boss Cecilia, you begin to really see a woman instead of a maid.  It is all of these relationships that make up the movie, that drive the story, and that move you to tears (several times).

I will say that Allison Janney (who plays Skeeter’s ill mother) was fantastic, as usual.  I have not seen a production that she’s been in that she wasn’t superb, though.  You can tell that Charlotte wants to have these friendships with her maids the same as Skeeter, but cannot break free of what society expects.  And Bryce Dallas Howard is the perfect villain.  You leave that movie hating Hilly, just as the writer intends, and yet there is something so sad in her character as well.  Perhaps it is her ignorance, her belief that she is not racist or cruel, but that you can see it so clearly.  Like a cherry on top, we are given Sissy Spacek as Hilly’s mother.  Though she is supposedly suffering from some sort of dementia, she can see how horrible her daughter has become.  In the beginning of the movie, she constantly berates her daughter for her treatment of Minny, as Minny was really Missus Walters’ employee.  Her arc is sad, but mostly serves as a reminder that not all of these women are terrible to the hired help.

All in all, a fantastic movie.  There is a good reason it has been the #1 selling movie for 3 (?) weeks, and will continue to dominate.  It is moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking.  I want to pick up the book just so I don’t have to say goodbye quite yet.

Rating: 10/10  I seriously cannot find anything wrong with it. (Maybe the fact that Skeeter’s curly hair was frowned upon.  I have curly hair, so that’s insulting.  Yea, one thing. 😀 )