Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by Tate Taylor_______________________________________________
A Story Maid in Mississippi...
Drama, Rated: PG-13
When a movie can tell a story, develop characters, and tickle your funny bone all at the same time the The Help does, you know it's got something. This is a delightful movie, set in the "separate but equal" period of our country. Most movies made in this period have me coming away feeling angry, which often makes me second guess seeing them. While you will get frustrated, it's done in the safe confines of great storytelling and wonderful characters who are far more than what they seem. I'd recommend watching this movie to anyone!
The story is really about three women. The central character, Aibileen (Viola Davis), is a black woman employed as a maid to a white family in the segregated Jackson, Mississippi. In the opening credits, we learn about Aibileen's work duties, her pay, and her gift for caring for her white employers' children and helping them feel good about themselves. Skeeter (Emma Stone) is the fish out of water, wannabe journalist who doesn't quite fit into racist/classist Mississippi charm of the south. She's single, her hair is mostly unkept, and has her own set of insecurities to battle through. Then there's Minnie (Octavia Spencer), also a black woman maid, but with more sass, wit, and love for cooking (fried chicken in particular).
When Skeeter gets a job as a writer for a housekeeping column, she reaches out to Aibileen for help. In the process, Skeeter gets another book idea centered around telling stories and thus seeing life from the perspective of the black maids who raise the children of the white people's "children's children" (as Aibileen calls them.) Skeeter pitches the book idea book to Aibileen who is reasonably hesitant at first. If she's gonna be honest about her stories, she's gonna put herself in considerable harm. Besides, nobody wants to read about stories of the black maids raising white children... at least that what she thinks.
If you've read any of my reviews, you know that I'm not into giving away too much of the story. I'll keep to that pattern in this review. Instead, I'll tell you that even though the material lacked the full punch of the racism of the era (I'd say it's a wee bit watered down) the story does well to keep you interested simply because of the characters. I can't think of a single bad acting performance in this movie. The characters make this movie what it is, and it's because they are all three-dimensional characters, rather then the cardboard cutouts of today's general version of hollywood storytelling. The closest to a 2D character is story's antagonist, Hillie, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. But she plays her part with such sweet sinisteria, that we don't mind loving to hate her. Once again, it goes to show that quality storytelling and well played characters can make any movie memorable!
But more than the characters is the theme of the movie. Validation. It's something we all need, something we yearn for. For me, this movie is all about the various ways we seek to validate ourselves, or how we have allowed others to do so (or not do so). The movie shows how "important" we all want to feel, and how that plays out in everyone's local color. I think validation is a central current throughout this movie, from which many an emotion spring out. This is not a movie about slaves and racism. This is a movie about people, and the fundamental need we all have to experience quality acceptance, validation, and a sense of importance from our fellow men (and women, for this film).
It's a delightful movie with moments that will make you laugh, cry, frustrated, and inspired. A good recipe for any movie! Highly recommended!
MY RATING: 4.5 out of 5
As A Christian [beware, possible spoilers]
As I mentioned in the main portion of the review, I feel that this movie is about validation and acceptance -- core needs to the human experience. This begs us to confront those needs --- in the characters and in ourselves. As Christians, I think we often underestimate the power of acceptance and worth-building as a need for people. We underestimate the value of listening to the stories of people, of experiencing life through their eyes. The disparaging comments and actions (made by Hillie) are frustrating, but Hillie is characterized as a Christian... and even performs a charity for an african community. We should be careful to see who we are more like... Hillie or Skeeter?
There is language in this movie (for those put off by such).
Already Seen it?
What are all the ways you see "validation" in this movie? Who do you think the church is more like these days... Hillie or Skeeter? Why?