I went to see The Help this week at a preview and I absolutely loved it! The Help is an adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel of the same name.
The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the politically explosive era of the 1960’s. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), a white middle class women, returns to her home in Jackson after graduating college to find that her maid Constantine, the black maid who raised her, is no longer in residence at her home. Her mother tells her that Constantine ‘quit’ but Skeeter never quite accepts this, as their bond was too strong for Constantine to exit her life in this way?
Upon returning to Jackson she finds her peers married with children and with maids of their own. Skeeter is a modern young women and wishes to pursue a career as a writer much more than she wishes to pursue men, much to the dismay of her mother and friends. She gets a job at the local paper as a writer of a domestic advice column. Skeeter has no knowledge of how to be a homemaker or get a stain out of a shirt so she asks her friend Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) if she could use the expertise of her black maid Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis).
Skeeter’s view of the lives of the black maids she has grown up with start to change as she becomes uncomfortable with the attitudes she sees from her friends towards these women that have raised them. She builds a relationship with Aibileen, which grows in to a trusting one enabling her to start to write a book telling the stories of ‘the help’.
The film is narrated by Aibileen in a incredibly heart warming manner, we learn a lot about her life and watch her become empowered buy the process of telling her stories through Skeeter. Viola Davis’s performance feels authentic and emotional but without feeling cheesey or emotionally manipulative. She plays the battle of her personal grief versus her ‘help’ persona perfectly, highlighting the very real fear that surrounded such women during this volatile time in the history of the USA.
The other maid that becomes involved in the writing of the book is Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), who gives a fantastic performance as the outspoken maid who is the best cook in town. She provides much of the comedic relief in the film but this is not to say that she is a comedy character as there are many dark areas of her life. She does however provide the biggest punch line in the whole film, and it’s a great one too!
This is beautifully told story through the voice of Aibileen Clark and there is a great performance also from Bryce Dallas Howard playing the most prominent villain of the piece, Hilly Holbrook. Hilly represents those whites who instead of progressing with the times in fact, due to fear and prejudice, wanted things to become more segregated, even championing the need for separate bathrooms for ‘the help’ due to disease.
Skeeter’s relationship with her own maid Constantine is also a touching tale representing her own respect, guilt and love for the woman that raised her.
Some of the scenes, events and relationships shown in this film are truly shocking but they tell a vital story about how resistant people are to change, black or white. It’s also an eye opener to realise just how recent the civil rights movement was, leaving scars still very much relevant today.
This has the feel of a definite Oscar flick and is already a box office success taking $177 million against its budget of $25 million. This is a great and emotional film for all, but you may want to take some tissues!