I will be the first to admit that although I am female, I am not a fan of the “chick flick” genre of film. And yet, I will also admit that I still cannot watch The Notebook without bawling my eyes out. It’s not my preferred genre, but sometimes a movie comes along that makes me not care that it’s targeted towards women and that I will be sitting in a theater full of other women, collectively sniffling into our tissues.
The Help is one such film. And as with most “chick flicks,” I saw it in a theater full of women, save for one poor male who had been dragged along by his wife. But it was a film that seems to have attracted a very diverse group of women, with me being amongst them. I was also then left wondering just what I had managed to get myself into by the time the first trailer began to roll.
After the movie had started, though, I was hooked.
The Help was originally a novel, written in 2009, by Kathryn Stockett. It is about African American maids working in upper class white households in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s.
The film features Emma Stone as Eugenia Phelan, otherwise known as Skeeter, a young tomboy-ish woman fresh out of college, trying to find her way in a world that is not generally friendly towards independent thinkers. Eugenia gets a job as a local columnist writing about housekeeping for the Jackson newspaper. It is through her research for this column that she gets to know a maid by the name of Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis). Skeeter begins to see more of life from Aibileen’s eyes and eventually decides to write a book from the point of view of the maids of Jackson. Now she just has to convince the maids to tell their story in a tumultous time when African Americans were threatened with violence for trying to exercise any rights.
As far as acting goes, this movie is first-class. Not only is Stone (one of my personal favorite up and coming actresses) showing off her drama acting chops in this film, but Viola Davis gives a stirring and often tear-inducing performance as Aibileen. Pair that with Octavia Spencer’s often-hilarious portrayal of Minny Jackson (another maid) and you’ve got the makings of a film that has Oscar written all over it.
Other strong performances include Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook, a mean and manipulative woman that makes the girls in Mean Girls look downright hospitable. I also especially liked Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote, a ditzy woman who has been cast out from the inner social circle of Jackson. Finally, Sissy Spacek, as Hilly’s mother, will leave you laughing in the aisles.
Yes, that’s right: laughing. Because The Help is not just a tearjerker. It is also extremely funny.
Some critics have complained that this film isn’t gritty enough about the civil rights movement, as it obviously does play a part in the story. But The Help is more about the courage of women who dared to stand up and speak out.
These women can easily serve as role models, and I encourage you to take your daughters to see this film (although please note that there is some language inappropriate for children under 13). The women of The Help serve as reminders that we are all kind, we are all smart and we are all – most of all – important.