“The Help” Breaks An Unspoken Code
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Years ago I knew Thomas Wolfe’s brother Fred. I’m sure you remember author Thomas Wolfe from your American Lit class. He wrote “Look Homeward, Angel,” a thinly disguised novel about his growing up in a Southern town. The book so angered town folk that a later novel was titled “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
Are we seeing a repeat of that in the movie version of a book titled “The Help”?
The plot: A young writer in Jackson, Mississippi, experiences the ire of her friends and neighbors when she writes an exposé about the help, those maids and nannies who work for the town’s white families. As a returning college grad in the ’60s, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan in a flash of social awareness notices that the African-American maids are treated differently by their employers. So she gains the trust of Aibileen Clark, a maid who has just lost her son, and Minny Jackson, a maid who constantly loses jobs because of her back-talk, to help her write the book.
What we have here is a book within a book. The writing of Skeeter Phelan’s book called “The Help” takes place in Kathryn Stockett’s popular novel called “The Help.”
Not to make your mind whirl, but “The Help” is now a movie about that book within a book starring Emma Stone as Skeeter, Viola Davis as Aibileen, and Octavia Spencer as sassy Minny.
“The Help” is cleaning up this week at the Tropic Cinema.
You’ll recognize young star Emma Stone from the teen comedy “Easy A” and the recent rom-com “Crazy Stupid Love.” Here, she shows her acting chops. This spate of recent movies and a cover on Vanity Fair demonstrate that she’s fast approaching Hollywood’s A List.
You should recognize Viola Davis too. A Tony-winning stage actress, she was nominated for a 2009 Academy Award for her eight-minute-long role in the film “Doubt.” You saw her more recently in “Eat Pray Love.”
And Octavia Spencer is familiar to TV viewers as the stalker IRS agent on “Ugly Betty.”
The supporting cast of “The Help” includes Bryce Dallas Howard (“Twilight: Eclipse”) as the town’s social leader, Jessica Chastain (“Tree of Life,” “The Debt”) as one of the town’s young wives, and Mitch Vogel (“Blue Valentine”) as the man who links them. Also here is Allison Janney (TV’s “West Wing”) as Skeeter’s mom, Sissy Spacek (“In the Bedroom”) as another mother, and Cicely Tyson (“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”) as a longtime resident.
Sure, the movie’s funny. But it’s also sad. So easy to forget the social injustices of that time in the ’60s where “The Help” is set – preserved here like an insect trapped in amber.
Like her character Skeeter, Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. And like Thomas Wolfe, she can’t go home again. Stockett now lives in Atlanta.
“Not everybody in Jackson, Mississippi’s thrilled,” she told CBS news anchor Katie Couric. She added, “a few close family members” are so unhappy that they aren’t talking to her.
Turns out, the longtime maid for Stockett’s brother has filed a $75,000 lawsuit against the author, claiming she was upset by the book. Ablene Cooper maintains that one of the book’s key characters – Aibileen Clark – is based on her. And Stockett’s brother Robert agrees. Note: I’m told Ablene has lost her lawsuit.
Kathryn Stockett describes the book (and movie) as “fiction, by and large.”
The theme of “The Help” is about how an unlikely friendship between three women shatters a Southern town’s unspoken code of behavior. Now it looks like Skeeter and Aibileen aren’t that good friends after all. And Kathryn Stockett broke that code when she wrote a tell-all book.
[from Solares Hill]