Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Help

Film: The Help [2011, usa]
Where I saw it: Tulsa/theatre
Who with: Sarah J. 
Rating: Joshua ***1/2; SJ ??

The Help is one of those films that takes an historical event that was painful, frightening or fraught with danger for the real-life individuals who experienced it. Then the story gets the "Hollywood treatment" where everything is glossed in the feel-good qualities that will warm the corners of the viewer's heart. The Help is set amongst the backdrop of the early civil rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi as a young white reporter attempts to capture the stories of the city's female African-American maids as they battle race division in various houses they work at. It's perilous for these women to voice their opinions in their stories, yet many do, to empower or free themselves from the decades of weight the racism of their daily lives has built up.

The Help could have just as easily been called "The Whites" as it has more time devoted to the lives of the white characters as it does the black ones. Typical for Hollywood. It might be a movie about the struggle for equality amongst poor African-American women, but you have to get a whole section of the film devoted to the spunky white recent college graduate "Skeeter" [Emma Stone] and her dating troubles. This is always the way with mainstream films that attempt to tell this kind of story and I could see why some people might be irritated or frustrated by the amount of attention given to Skeeter's curly hair versus the bigger issues that could be shown on screen.

But, that's Hollywood for you and Hollywood has to sell as many tickets as they can. Loading the film with as many opportunities to laugh or cry [Skeeter's mom has cancer! A maid's son died young!] gives the creators to check as many boxes as they can to give the audience. These obvious qualities are less annoying  due to the fact that The Help is such a wonderfully crafted film for what it is--a manipulative piece of entertainment that will make you sad, happy, angry and uplifted by its end. The cast is terrific, from Stone to Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as maids, to Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain as a couple of employers.

The Help pulled my strings as if I were a marionette and at the mercy of a professional puppeteer. I laughed, cried a few tears, I felt all the feelings I was supposed to feel despite my attempts to resist. You can't really hold it against The Help that it is so utterly manipulative as all films try to manipulate the audience, whether it is to quicken the pulse or let loose the waterworks. Part of the experience of the movies is to go emotionally where a well-done movie takes you, regardless if you want to go there or not. The Help is no different as it tells the story of this southern community's facing the racial divide that exists not only in the city's boundaries, but the walls of every house.


Angela Box said...

I was raised in the Arkansas delta and yes we had help but they were treated with respect. As a child, if there were only a couple of meatballs left and I wanted them, I was quietly told I could not as the cook Mattie would get them. When my grandfather died, the man who helped him run the farm was remembered in his will in the early 60s to the tune of $1,000. My grandfather's help as well as my mother's all attended my family only wedding as well as the reception.
I am sure the black help in the North were not always treated well. I just get tired of the South being ridiculed. It is the "in" thing to do and, I believe is politically motivated.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Thanks for the personal details Angela...I'm sure there are a lot of people with experiences with "help" of different nationalities or races. This was an entertaining film, but it could have had much more depth I believe.