This is my big guilty pleasure movie. It’s one of two that I can never turn away from whenever it comes up. I highly recommend it, and I decided to write a post about why.
The Help, based off of the book by the same name, is a movie set during the Civil Rights Era, where the South was rampant with racism, and the biggest offender was the person people would least expect: the housewife. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is the daughter of such a culture, but is horrified by it. Aibileen Clark is a grief-stricken maid who works to keep some semblance of a life after she lost her son, working for a woman suffering from postpartum depression who is unable to acknowledge her own daughter. Minny Jackson is an outspoken maid who has the unfortunate problem of working for the most racist woman in town, as well as suffering from an abusive husband. Skeeter ends up being the tool for several black maids to express the awful conditions of the working help in the South as conditions continue to plummet, as well as the stories of occasional kindness from their employers, by helping them publish a book telling their stories anonymously.
The characters of this movie are what make it, as well as the actresses who play them. I am well known for quoting Minny’s line about the people around her giving her heart palpitations with their actions, and she is by far my favorite character. (Though Skeeter has her moments of awesome). And through both those women’s sass, we have Aibileen as this stalwart figure of seriousness, which is really her being the one who has been impacted the hardest by the racism of the times. She’s lost her son to it, and is alone in this world as a result except for Minny’s friendship. But through the course of the story, these three women discover more about themselves through their actions and through sharing their stories with each other and the rest of the country. It allows them to grow and change their lives, though whether for the better is from a matter of perspective in some cases.
As for setting, the scenery and costumes are to die for. Of course, I love the fashion of that era, so the entire movie makes me squee. I also love the little touches that they do to help establish the setting. Things like the black and white TV during the coverage of various Civil Right movements, Skeeter bringing up Jackie Kennedy and how she has never looked more regal, the uniforms for the maids and for the waiter at the local diner. The diner period, which I am also a sucker for. It was also right there that this was so the South, from deviled eggs with paprika, the love of pie and fried chicken (we take that very seriously around here), that the accents were really sort of secondary for me. I do like that everyone had a drawl of some sort, but they also varied it some, which makes sense because it varies a little bit from person to person in my experience. (I don’t have one until I’m either being super sarcastic or super angry, for example, and mine has a definite Texas lilt to it.)
The part of the story that does sort of irk me is that the story is meant to be about the lives of these black maids, about what they had to live and go through and their way of taking some of that agency back. What irks me is that we had to have this teenage white girl (I say teenage, I’ll be kinder, she’s a recent college graduate) be their mouth piece. Yes, she gives them the advance from the books, but she’s the one who builds up her career off of it. This could just be the time of the book’s fictional writing. If Aibileen had written it, she may not have been able to publish it. We also wouldn’t have had Constantine’s story. But I think it may have made for a stronger book and given the maids even more agency over their story. It also would have given Aibileen an even stronger ending instead of the rather ambiguous one that she currently has.
Overall, this is always going to be one of my favorite movies. I love the relationships these women have with each other, the way they tell stories, the fact that even though there are some romantic subplots, it is a majority female cast that instead talks about life, about the issues of their times, about their families and their friends and their work. It isn’t another rom-com or Bond girl set-up, and at the same time it has tension and forward momentum. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it for a Saturday or Sunday binge watch. I promise you won’t regret it.