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The Help

A movie directed by Tate Taylor

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The Maids Tell All

  • Aug 10, 2011
Star Rating:

The Help is extraordinary in the way it evokes an era and explores an unspoken but well-understood social order, specifically in regards to race relations. It takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, at which point the Jim Crow laws were still in effect – the segregation of public schools, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, drinking fountains, movie theater entrances, and even the U.S. military. During this time, it was common for white families to hire black maids, who would do all the cooking and cleaning. Most importantly, they would raise the children. The cruel irony is that, in spite of the affection they were shown, many of these white children would grow up and perpetuate the racist beliefs of their parents. This is the thanks a black woman got for being more of a mother to their employer’s children than their actual mothers ever were.
The film is based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett. No one was more qualified to tell this story than her; born in Jackson in 1969, at which point the laws had changed but the “rules” had not, she was raised primarily by her family’s maid, Demetrie. “I adored Demetrie as much as my own mother,” Stockett wrote in an article for Mail Online. “In some ways, she was better than our mother, who was always busy (I am one of five). Demetrie played games with us all day and never got cross. She knew to rock us on our stomachs when we ached. She knew she needed to go to the doctor with me every time I had an injection. None of us would sit still for an injection without Demetrie there.” But the relationship was a bit more complicated than it seemed. “And yet, as much as we loved Demetrie, she had a separate bathroom located on the outside of the house. I never once sat down to eat with her at the table. I never saw her – except the day she lay in her coffin – dressed in anything but that white uniform.”

Stockett wrote The Help as a way to process her feelings about her relationship with Demetrie. This is clearly evident in the film, which is obviously rooted in the civil rights era but does not make civil rights the main focus. This isn’t a criticism; by narrowing their sights on this particular story, the filmmakers don’t allow the characters to be overshadowed by an all-encompassing message, one that has been sent and, I believe, gotten through to most people (although I don’t deny that there are exceptions). The more a personality is permitted to develop, the better chance it has of being understood and perhaps even embraced by an audience. Personality oozes from every character in this film, and it’s precisely because of that that the plot will resonate, no matter what your walk in life.
It’s told primarily from the perspective of three women. One is Aibileen (Viola Davis), a middle-aged African American maid whose son recently died in a horrible accident. She has been a maid for many years; her current employer is Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly), who relies on Aibileen to care for her young daughter. We also meet Aibileen’s friend, a maid named Minny (Octavia Spencer), who has often gotten her fired for her sassy, confrontational attitude. Her original employer, Mrs. Walters (Sissy Spacek), has a lot of life left in her despite the fact that her mind is slipping away. Minny now takes orders from Mrs. Walters’ daughter, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), the community’s social leader and head of the Junior League. She proposes an initiative that would require the “colored help” to have private bathrooms built specifically for them.
Finally, we meet Eugina, better known as Skeeter (Emma Stone), a white college graduate who aspires to become a writer. Upon returning home, she lands a job at a local paper writing housekeeping advice columns. This doesn’t impress her cancer-stricken mother (Allison Janney), who only wants her daughter to get married. Skeeter is not interested in a relationship. She is, however, very interested to know what happened to the maid who raised her, Constantine (seen in flashback, played by Cicely Tyson). Mom provides an explanation, but hardly a satisfying one. What became of the woman who not only raised Skeeter, but also taught her to how to be caring, strong, and independent?

Skeeter sought out Aibileen initially as resource for her housekeeping column. But she quickly decides to embark on an ambitious and potentially dangerous project: Writing a nonfiction book from the point of view of “the help.” Aibileen is understandably reluctant to take part, but she eventually comes around. So too does Minny, who got her revenge on Hilly after she was fired for daring to enter the upstairs bathroom. What exactly did she do to Hilly? Let’s just say that the writers somehow managed to turn a tasteless, disgusting prank into a hilarious sight gag.
Other subplots weave their way into the story. One of the best involves Minny’s newest employer, Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), who has been shunned from Hilly’s inner circle and just wants to be the perfect housewife. With this character, the filmmakers found the perfect balance between heartwarming and heartbreaking; although she’s sweet and naïve, and although she takes part in some of the film’s funniest scenes, an especially tragic shot in her rose garden makes is clear that she has been seriously hurt in the past. We also meet a young man named Stuart (Chris Lowell), who seems to be a perfect match for Skeeter despite their rocky start. But the best characters are Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, in large part because of the spot-on casting of Davis, Spencer, and Stone. Because of them, The Help has transcended its status as a best-seller to become a heartfelt, compelling, and all-around wonderful film.


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September 28, 2011
I liked your review. Your comment about the author helped me know where she was coming from with this bathroom twist. Emotionally the movie is rich. I felt the story took almost no risks. There were several implausibilites such as Skeeter's mother decides she is not going to die of cancer after all, and Celia's husband reaction to what she does to herself in the bathroom. I don't think most guys would respond like that. I may post my own review.
August 12, 2011
whoa. A perfect score! This seems to be getting mixed reviews. I like movies that has the civil rights era, so I think I may check this out. Not sure if I'll see it this weekend, since I am pretty much swamped with things to do before my vacay.
August 18, 2011
It seems my response was emotionally driven, which may or may not be a good thing. Although certain movies are intended to provoke an emotional reaction, the ideal film critic observes a film objectively. Be that as it may, yes, I greatly enjoyed this movie, and I felt it deserved four stars.
More The Help reviews
review by . February 13, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
**1/2 out of ****    During the early 1960's - at the time of the Civil Rights era - there were the upper class men and women, and then there were the Help. Who, and what, was "the help", exactly? Why, they were the household labor force, consisting entirely of blacks. Most of them were women. They acted as maids, servants, and perhaps even slaves to their superiors/employers; obeying every last order in fear of being disciplined if they failed to adhere. They lived dangerous …
review by . November 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   Starting with a sensational cast and a talented director, The Help unveils the most usual and common racial theme in a customized manor. It transcends from being dramatic, powerful and heartbreaking to being funny, excentric and flamboyant in an unique and hilarious way. While it depicts a warm and thoughtful story about the 1960s racial era in Mississippi in which strong black women were treated so harsh by their "employers", The Help succeeds in being mature in a childish …
review by . August 11, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Based in the racially charged Deep South during the sixties The Help takes a look at the perspective of the hired help and what they were forced to grin and take during Jim Crow. The heart of the story is in the right place. Everything else seems to be scattered from the emotion to the narrator. This fluctuation may work for a book but in the movie the story seems to be all over the place.      The story itself is very convincing and connects itself to the audience. …
review by . June 02, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Entertaining and thought-provoking
The year is 1963, and Skeeter returns from college to find life as usual among her privileged set. She’s the only one in the Junior League who notices that the black servants must silently endure insults and degradation at the hands of their oblivious employers. She decides to write a book about how the help really feel about their jobs and asks to interview several maids. This is socially risky for Skeeter and seriously dangerous for the maids.   I loved the book and was glad that …
review by . August 10, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
We could all use a little help
THE HELP   Written and Directed by Tate Taylor   Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer      Aibileen: What if you don't like what I got to say 'bout white people?      Jackson, Mississippi has a rich history but it certainly also has its fair share of shame. Great turmoil does however make for great drama in novice filmmaker, Tate Taylor’s THE HELP, based on the wildly popular novel of the …
Quick Tip by . December 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I never ever watch these type of movies, but last weekend my surplus of redbox rental codes and lack of movie selection lead me to rent The Help. I'd heard all the good things about it while it was in theaters and still put it on the back burner. I'm glad i did finally give it a chance though, because it was an amazing movie! Its been a while since i watched a movie that held my full attention for the entire runtime. Needless to say i will be adding this to my movie collection this weekend.
review by . August 19, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   Every once in a while a movie comes along that completely transcends entertainment. Based on a novel I've not read, The Help adds one more layer to the Civil Rights movement. The hardworking layer of the African American maids who lovingly raised the children of their employers and then suffered many of those same children growing into bigoted adults. Stories are shared, lives explored, attitudes revealed and the fictional account is likely just a tiny shadow of reality.   …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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There are male viewers who will enjoyThe Help, but Mississippi native Tate Taylor aims his adaptation squarely at the female readers who made Kathryn Stockett's novel a bestseller. If the multi-character narrative revolves around race relations in the Kennedy-era South, the perspective belongs to the women. Veteran maid Aibileen (Doubt's Viola Davis in an Oscar-worthy performance) provides the heartfelt narration that brackets the story. A widow devastated by the death of her son, she takes pride in the 17 children she has helped to raise, but she's hardly fulfilled. That changes when Skeeter (Easy A's Emma Stone) returns home after college. Unlike her peers, Skeeter wants to work, so she gets a job as a newspaper columnist. But she really longs to write about Jackson's domestics, so she meets with Aibileen in secret--after much cajoling and the promise of anonymity. When Aibileen's smart-mouthed friend Minny (breakout star Octavia Spencer) breaches her uptight employer's protocol, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) gives her the boot, and she ends up in the employ of local outcast Celia (Jessica Chastain, hilarious and heartbreaking), who can't catch a break due to her dirt-poor origins. After the murder of Medgar Evers, even more maids, Minny among them, bring their stories to Skeeter, leading to a book that scandalizes the town--in a good way. Not sinceSteel Magnoliashas Hollywood produced a Southern woman's picture more likely to produce ...
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Director: Tate Taylor
Genre: Drama
Release Date: 12 August 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Tate Taylor, Kathryn Stockett
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"The Maids Tell All"
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