Upfront: I LOVED IT.
I resisted seeing this movie for a few weeks, but when the long Labor Day weekend approached I decided to catch this movie (saw this movie before heading off to a wedding, so perhaps that skews everything I’m about to write). What else was I supposed to see:”Apollo 18″, “Shark Night 3D”? Why my resistance? All you have to do is take one glance at the poster and it tells you: chick flick combined with, as one friend put it, the “white savior genre” (or as the WSJ critic put it, the white guilt genre). As for the chick flick comment, the male actors in “The Help” are almost an after thought– a handful of boyfriends/husbands, a waiter, a boss, a pastor and all of them playing two-bit roles. Nelsan Ellis(playing “Henry the Waiter” or better known to many of us as Lafayette Reynolds from “True Blood”) has a somewhat pivotal role, but let’s just say the movie would have done just fine without his character. As for the white savior comment, it follows that glorious (infamous) line of movies starting with “Dancing with Wolves” and moving on to “The Last Samurai,” “Gran Torino” and “The Blind Side” – I’m sure I could find similar movies that date before “Dancing with Wolves”, but I am under the impression that “Dancing with Wolves” is seen as the godfather of this genre. I’m not saying that all of those movies are awful and unintentionally racist. I loved “Gran Torino.” I was insulted by “The Last Samurai.” It is just that when you combine “chick flick” with “white savior”, in my mind, a film immediately starts out with two strikes. (For a deeper dive into the “white savior” comment, read Patricia A. Turner’s op-ed in the New York Times.)
Now that I’ve shown my willingness to attack a movie just based on the poster, let’s move on to a movie summary. Skeeter (Emma Stone) has returned to Jackson, Mississippi after graduating from Ole Miss. She finds a job working at a local newspaper answering questions from stay at home moms, but she is soon inspired to write a book about the African-American maids that work in Jackson. This inspiration comes when she finds out that her family maid, Constantine (Cicely Tyson), no longer works for the family and she is given an explanation that feels like a lie from the start. She gets further inspiration when she sees how her hometown friends treat two maids in particular, Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (OctaviaSpencer).
If the above summary isn’t the definition of a “chick flick” combined with the “white savior” genre, I’m not sure what is. On the other hand, I walked out of that movie surprised that two hours and twenty-six minutes had gone by. I LOVED IT. I love it even after thinking about some of the movie flaws such as whether or not Missus Walters (Sissy Spacek) is suffering from dementia or not – seriously, one single moment she can’t even remember what town she lives in while during the rest of the film she seems as sharp as a wacky university professor.
One has to say that this is one of those films that might have a few strikes against it, but it is pushed into the I LOVED IT column by the actresses. Emma Stone lights up the screen (one perhaps can understand Jim Carrey’s video if you see this movie along with “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Easy A”). Jessica Chastain (Celia Foote, the woman born on the wrong side of the tracks – and if you’re into thrillers/international intrigue, check out her other film that is currently in the theaters called “The Debt”) brings a bubbly personality that will result in proclamations of love as her last scene ends. Viola Davis portrays perfectly a character that has suffered an enormous loss and yet uses it to develop inner strength. Octavia Spencer plays to comedic perfection that untrusting personality who once she finds you trustworthy will talk your head off (or if you play her wrong will take sweet revenge). Bryce Dallas Howard(Hilly Holbrook), Ahna O’Reilly (Elizabeth Leefolt) and Anna Camp (Jolene French – Anna Camp also is from that “True Blood” cast of characters) are delicious as the “mean girls” of Jackson.
All-in-all, one of the top 5 films of the summer.