Well guys, I’m glad to be back from three weeks of traveling. First I was on vacation in Thailand. While there, I thought I was going to be able to write a lot except that for four of my eight days there, I was on Koh Ngai, a tropical island in the Andaman Sea. Unfortunately, Koh Ngai had no Internet at all. So, that plan disappeared. Then, I was in Toronto for five days and had no time to do anything except for the business that this business trip was about.
Saturday I got home and caught up on my personal life. So, yesterday, I had some time to kill and thought I would see “The Help.” After all, it has been doing incredible business and being a producer, I figured I had better see it. I had no interest in the material and thought I was going to end up seeing a typical liberal slant Hollywood Film about the mistreatment of blacks in this country.
Boy was I surprised when I left the theater. ”The Help,” at this point, is the Best Picture of the Year and should be nominated by the Academy and every other major organization. In fact, there is nothing even close to the quality of this film released thus far this year.
Taking a book about pre-civil rights south and converting it into a movie that would appeal to the masses is difficult at best. However, when you factor the chick flick factor into this one, it becomes almost impossible. Well, writer/director Tate Taylor has succeeded on a grand scale. He has taken a best selling novel about southern mores during the early 1960s during the beginning of the civil rights movement and turned it into a four quadrant movie. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this film tops 200 million in domestic box office before its run is finished.
And, to make Taylor’s accomplishment even more unbelievable, Taylor is not known as a writer/director. In fact, this is his second feature; the first being a relatively unknown film. The remainder of his career to date has been as a bit part actor. Let’s just say he will have no problem getting his next feature financed with an “A” list cast.
Emma Stone has secured her place as a full fledged movie star with this one. In it, she plays “Skeeter” Phelan, the Junior League member with a heart. Skeeter, like all southern aristocracy in the 1950s was not raised by her parents; she was raised by her black maid. Her maid, Constantine portrayed by 1970s star Cicely Tyson (Sounder) in a memorable cameo, instills all of the morals and self-esteem into Skeeter that her biological mother does not. In fact, her biological mother is only concerned that her ugly daughter find a spouse, which is what we are told all, Ole Miss, graduates from that era are supposed to do.
This pattern develops with all of the black maids in Jackson, Mississippi. The biological mothers are too busy with their social standing and “do-gooding” to care about their own children. And, the black maids take over the job and do a damn well excellent job of it. However, the movie fails to explain how the majority of the white children raised by black maids turn into racists; which is what most of Skeeter’s friends have become.
The two maids who form the center of the story, Abileen and Minnie, are portrayed by relatively unknowns who also give Oscar caliber performances. They never lose their character as they show the trials and tribulations of living in the deep south prior to the civil rights movement. Abileen and Minnie show their love and compassion for the white children they are raising whilst they are continually being mistreated by their employers. Both of them live hard lives, but do not throw in the towel. Their inner-strength shows in every scene.
Bryce Dallas Howard appears almost unrecognizable as the antagonist of the film. She is Junior League president Hilly. She is also a bitter racist bitch who, in the end, is beaten by Minnie and Abileen because of her own hubris. It is her southern pride that does her in with both “The Help” and her mother (Sissy Spacek).
Getting to the ending is a joy from the beginning. I did not feel bored at all during the film and did not even doze off. Everything about the movie worked, including the detail in the Production Design. The entire film reminded me of this period of my youth. From the “Charles Chips” containers in the kitchens to the black and white TVs which showed images of Civil Rights leaders and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Every detail was excellent.
And, most importantly, it was the portrayal of the black life in the 1960s that was excellent. Not once did I feel I was being manipulated emotionally. Not once did I feel I was being used to help propel a liberal agenda. The entire time I was sitting in the theater I felt I was just witnessing the lives of these people; both the good and the bad from both of the races. In this way, “The Help” was more fair and balanced than most of the mainstream media is these days; and that my readers is a good thing.