Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A 'Help'ing Hand

The Help
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek
Released: August 10, 2011
Viewed in theaters: August 17, 2011

The Help is the name of the latest movie I saw in the theater starring Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as Abilene and Minnie, two black maids working for white families in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. It's also the name of the novel by Katherine Stockett which it's adapted from. It's also the name of the book within the novel and the movie which aspiring writer Skeeter (Emma Stone) writes anonymously with the help of Abilene, Minnie, and other maids about what it's really like for these maids to work for white families.

Abilene works for Skeeter's friend, Elizabeth Leefolt. She cooks, cleans, and is basically the mother for the Leefolt's two year old daughter. Minnie used to work for the uppity Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her senile mother (Sissy Spacek), but was fired and now works for Celia Foote who lives way out of town and is shunned by Hilly and the rest of her friends because Celia married the man Hilly had deep feelings for. Skeeter gets a job writing a column for her town's newspaper where she has to answer questions about cleaning. She asks Abilene to help her with the articles until Skeeter decides she wants to write something of importance and after Hilly makes a big fuss about building separate bathrooms for the help, Skeeter sees her friend's true colors start to show and gets the idea for her book. At first Abilene is hesitant because if either of them get caught, it would be very serious, but decides it's important to get her story out there and agrees as long as Skeeter is very careful about the whole thing and doesn't use her real name. Minnie shares her stories too, but Skeeter is told that her book can only be published if she gets a dozen more maids to tell their stories. After the murder of Medgar Evers, more maids volunteer to speak to Skeeter about their experience as a maid.

The movie does a pretty good job of following the book, but there are some things that are left out. If you haven't read the book, the following might be slight spoilers:

The relationship between Minnie and Celia has been edited quite heavily in the film. While they do have THAT scene between them (if you've read the book, you know which one I'm talking about), it builds up in the book and you find out why Cecelia has been hiding in the bathroom and never leaves the house. In the movie, it's the first time Cecelia was crying in the bathroom and Minnie barges in on her. They also sort of skimmed over Cecelia being worried that her husband was going to find out about Minnie. She kept her a secret from him in the movie too, but didn't seem concerned if he found out about her.

They keep the relationship between Skeeter and Stuart, but it's very downplayed in the movie where he's a jerk to her, then apologizes and they date, then he breaks up with her when she tells him about the book she wrote. This is also the arc of their relationship in the book, but of course there are more scenes between them making their relationship more developed.

Skeeter's mother (Allison Janney) has cancer but while you learn of it the same time as Skeeter in the book, she already has it when we first meet her in the film.

See the movie, but also make sure you read the book. And have tissues handy for both!

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