Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Help

by Pa Rock
Movie Aficionado

The movies that play at the Armed Forces Theatres generally fall into two categories:  those for children, and mindless action flicks.  Very rarely does something fit for intelligent adults make make it onto the military movie playlist.

Tonight at the theatre on Camp Foster I was privileged to see one of those rare exceptions.   The Help, starring a host of remarkable female actors, is a stunning achievement.  The plot revolves around Eugenia , or "Skeeter" (Emma Stone), who returns to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963 after graduating from Ole Miss.  She wants to be a writer, and in order to gain some real world experience she accepts a position at the Jackson newspaper writing a column on housekeeping.

The subject of her column, as well as her rebellious nature and the simultaneous rise of the civil rights movement, puts Skeeter into contact with the black maids of Jackson and she soon becomes determined to tell their stories in a book.  But to interview blacks and do anything that would promote unrest between the races was an offense that could result in arrest - or worse - in segregated Mississippi.  Ever so slowly Skeeter gets the women who cook, clean, grocery shop, and care for the children of the white socialites of Jackson to tell their stories - and it all has to be done in absolute secrecy.

First question:  What does it feel like to raise a white child while your own children are at home being taken care of by somebody else?

And the stories that Skeeter hears are heartbreaking:  maids are not allowed the use the restrooms of their employers for fear they will pass on some of "their" diseases - though they are expected to clean those same restrooms, maids having their own eating utensils that were expected to be kept separated from the master's, pay below minimum wage with nothing withheld for social security, and even one maid who was passed on from mother to daughter in a will - stories of degradation where everyone knew their place.

The stories were powerful, as was the overall movie, and the cast was incomparable.  Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer portrayed two of the more outspoken maids and much of the movie centered on their travails.  Cicely Tyson was an elderly maid who had worked for the same family for decades when she was suddenly fired for inadvertently embarrassing her employer.  Sissy Spacek played the mother of the most heartless of the young socialites (Bryce Dallas Howard) and provided rare bits of comic relief.  Allison Janney was Emma Stone's mother who was initially focused on finding her poor daughter a man so that she could get on with her life, but slowly came to realize that the girl was special even without a man.

Others of note in the cast included Jessica Chastain, Aunjanue Ellis, and Mary Steenburgen.  Yes, there were also a few men in the movie, but they were almost included as after-thoughts.  This movie was a great vehicle for the ladies.

The Help was based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.  Tate Taylor wrote the screenplay and served as the director.

This one will take home some Oscars.

1 comment:

Xobekim said...

From an historical perspective this little film gives a partial backstory to why America needed to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Practices such as leaving a human being as a legacy in a will should have been ended with passage of the the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition against slavery.

The vestigial remnants of slavery continued, which is why Civil Rights litigation developed as an area of modern litigation and appellate advocacy.