I’d read the book – TWICE —and as any avid reader knows ‘the movie’ is never as good as the book. Never! For one thing, one of the great problems in translating the written word to celluloid is that the film medium typically removes entirely — or drastically changes — some of the elements the book’s author left to the reader’s imagination. (You say “TO-MAY-TOE” and I say “TO-MAH-TOW, as it were.) Then, there are the inevitable dramatic effects added by Hollywood in order to make the screenplay more bofo at the box office, at least in the minds of studio executives.
I also had little time and even fewer dollars to invest in a film that was based upon a book written by a first time author and a movie whose screenplay was written by a first timer, Tate Taylor. There were also those nasty rumors that the movie was directed by a first timer – again, Tate Taylor. (There was an even natier rumor that the book’s author and Taylor had been childhood best friends. (Are you kiddin me!!!???) And while I am all for giving newbies break, I figure that the formula of, first timer x first timer x first timer, is a prescription for disaster if there ever was one. Seems to me that’s roughly the equivalent of Ray Charles driving Stevie Wonder down a crowded freeway in a Yugo!
A few days ago though, I had the chance see the movie for free. I also must admit that I was a wee bit curious, so I went to see the on-screen carnage. (OK, I admit it, I used to watch NASCAR for the same reason.)
By the end of the movie, I admitted to myself that had been wrong all along. (My apologies to all of the above including Ray, Stevie and NASCAR.)
Even if you’ve been living under a rock or even of you’ve been in the grips of the worst recession known to man and haven’t been able to come out of the house in months, you know the story line of “The Help.” It is the fictionalized story of three women, two black and one white, who forge a bond to write a book (conveniently entitled, The Help) to tell the stories of what it was like to be a black domestic taking care of wealthy white people and their children in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi.
The stars of the movie, while not completely unknowns, have most assuredly been in somebody’s witness protection program. They are, to this point, shall we say “little knowns”: Viola Davis (Abilene Clark), Octavia Spencer (Minny Jackson), Emma Stone (Skeeter Phelan), Bryce Dallas Howard as the wicked witch of West or in this case Jackson, Holly Holbrook. Veteran actresses Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson also add a little spice to the effort in playing character parts.
The movie is terrific – even if there is no Halle Barry in the cast and no gratuitous sex as part of the plot. (Drat!) Most importantly, there are also no lulls in the movie, even when it threatens us with one of those schmaltzy, “lives happily ever after” endings. Instead, it lifts its landing gear, roars down the runway and takes off into the wild blue yonder for thrills and spills the rest of the way home.
Story lines abound in “The Help” with the thickest thread being how racial and societal forces drove the everyday, unhappy lives of black domestics and their wealthy, white employers during the darkest days of the Civil Rights Movement. While the movie carries stereotypical story lines regarding how poorly the underclass domestics were treated by their employers, Stockett and Taylor and the cast members do not allow that particular theme to be the movie’s single driving force, although you can be sure that it played a prime role —and deservedly so. But there are other narrative sub-plots too: just what was the ‘Terrible Awful’ of Minny Jackson? (Minny did what!!!) How does the Holly Holbrook’s Home Sanitation Health Initiative work out? Will the ‘good’ white folks of Jackson ever accept the white trash Celia Foote from Sugar Ditch, Mississippi? (the greatest fictional name for a town of ne’er do wells since Lil Abner’s ‘Dogpatch’.)
The people at DreamWorks, the producers of the movie and the people, who ultimately green lighted its production and distribution, need no help from me in promotion. At this writing, “The Help” sits atop of the Hollywood box office and has for three of the past four weeks. That’s reward enough for the project’s owners, I guess. But I also suspect that you’ll see Davis and Spencer and Stone on the screen again. And soon. You’ll also hear their names again and again when the Oscar nominations are announced. If you don’t, something’s amiss.
Moviegoers will definitely hear from Tate Taylor again. And while it’s a tall order to catch lightning in a bottle twice, Stockett has certainly earned the right to publish multiple books whenever she wants. She has already proven to be a great American story-teller.
Go and see “The Help.” You will not need to suspend belief in order to ‘feel the movie.’ It’s not preachy in the way that many movies can be. But if you have an ounce of humanity or any soul whatsoever, it will grab you. And if you have no humanity, you might even exorcise some demons.If you have no humanity and still employ servants, the movie will also answer the question that has long been on your mind: Are they talking about me behind my back?
Yep, they are.
Lastly, if you are also one of those folks, who have no humanity but also still employ servants, you might not want to see this movie accompanied by “the help at” your house. I’d also be a little wary of your maid’s next serving of pie ala mode if I were you. (You’ll have to see the movie or read the book to see what I’m talking about.)