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The Help helps us remember

Whenever I review a movie that plays to a predominantly female demographic I usually throw in my standard lines about needing to top up my testosterone level by watching Die Hard or any of the early Eastwood films, but I’m not going to do that this time.
The Help is a film that has found favor among women, but it really should cut across gender lines.
Based on the best-selling book by Kathryn Stockett, it highlights the growing civil rights movement in the south by telling the stories of three women of that time.
Two of them are black women working for white families and the third is a writer who gets the women to trust her and tell their stories.
It puts a face on the victims of racism and the perpetrators.
Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is a maid who was recently fired from a long-term position she held and is desperate for work. She finds employment with a ditzy blonde who’s trying to fool her husband into thining she’s abetter cook and housekeeper than she is. In addition to help with these daily tasks, Minny serves up really solid advice which her boss would be well advised to follow. She doesn’t – which makes for one of the movies funnier moments. I won’t spoil it for you, but it involves a big event, a pie, and well, you do the math.
Then there’s Aibaleen Clarke (Biola Davis) who’s a nanny. She puts a lot of love into raising the children she’s hired to care for. It’s more than a job, but no matter how much she cares they still carry on the sins of the father. Or more accurately, the mothers. The white women in this keep racism alive. They mistreat their staff and keep the wall of inequality up, socializing their children into the same cycle of racism and injustice.
We hope the kids will rise above it, but they don’t.
Into this dynamic comes Skeeter (Emma Stone). For the record, Emma Stone is one of the more interesting young actresses to come out of the last five years. She plays the young liberal writer who wants to know the stories of these women and we share her indignation as she learns about their world and feels their pain.
She has a connection with this world of prejudice herself. She had a nanny who was beloved and part of the family fabric who just disappeared one day.
Skeeter’s mom, Alison Janney, is no different than the women Skeeter is chronicaling and since this is essentially a feel good story about a desperate topic there isn’t a flat out happy ending but there are some moments of redemption and that subplot is one of them. Nuff said.
It’s a sad footnote to the entire Jim Crow era in the States that black people weren’t allowed to vote or ride the bus or do much of anything that fell under the category of basic decency, but they were entrusted to raise the children of the ruling class.
People have an influence no matter what the outcome so we have to think that all the children raised by Aibaleen learned some measure of humanity and tolerance, even if they appreared to just grow into different looking versions of their mothers. It was a very regimented social stratta at the time not just for African Americans, but for women as well. That’s not to forgive them, but to offer some explanation of somethign that makes no sense.
This isn’t on the same level as To Kill A Mockingbird, which also told a small story to highlight a big issue. It tends to soften the role of the white people, and we get the camera pulled away from the real impact of the pain inflicted on our heroines. However it’s a really good film and a story that needs to be retold to each generation so no one forgets the lessons of that time. We live in a softer era. People forget. The Help helps us remember because it wasn’t that long ago.
I normally complain at length when films take longer than two hours. I mean seriously, can’t you pick up the pace director guy?
In this case no. We need that much time to let these women tell their stories. The time moved quickly and I never had a sense that it was self-indulgent. It just took that long.
I liked this movie, even though watching it made me uncomfortable and angry.
It’s Driving Miss Daisy with an edge. We know there are secrets that the help see and this movie shares all of them with us.
The Help has been number 1 for several weeks for a reason. Go check it out and see what that is.
As always, other opinions are welcome, but wrong. That’s it for this week. The cheques in themail and I’m outta here. Paul

Filed Under: Paul Peterson

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