Movie Review: The Help

Still of Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone in "The Help" (Image via Moviefone)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Since it’s Labor Day, I thought I would swap Masterpiece Monday for a movie review to celebrate all workers, past and present. I just saw “The Help” with one of my best friends today, and although I haven’t read the 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, I really enjoyed the movie.

Both book and film are wrapped in controversy due to their subject matter: Actress Emma Stone plays Skeeter, a young aspiring journalist/novelist in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s. She decides to write a book from the perspective of the African-American maids in her community, in spite of definite alienation and possible imprisonment.

Stockett writes what she knows, since she also lived in Jackson and was raised by a maid instead of a mother. Unfortunately, though she was faced with a lawsuit by her sibling’s former maid Ablene Cooper, who claims the character Aibileen Clark was based off her (the lawsuit has since been dismissed due to Cooper suing after the one-year statute of limitations).

Regardless of Stockett’s legal troubles, “The Help” was a wonderful film which highlighted a group of amazing people under-appreciated by society. Some will find issue with a white woman speaking for black women, or the happily-ever-after portrayal of race issues in America, but I don’t think anyone would claim that racism is not alive and well even today. Instead, we should see the movie as a learning experience, a reminder of both how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go in combating racism.

Story-wise, the dialogue was witty, the characters endearing, and the acting down-to-earth and heartfelt. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and rethink what you believe about more than just race: I also appreciated the movie’s discussion of sexism. A woman’s struggle to be the ‘perfect’ wife and mother (despite miscarriages, social isolation, and the desire for a career) is of course not just a 1960’s phenomenon.

My only issue with this film is its demonization of the irreligious. When Aibileen (played by the exquisite Viola Davis) confronts racist housewife Hilly Holbrook (played by “Twilight’s” Bryce Dallas Howard), she declares, “You are a godless woman!” For someone secular like myself, it’s like a slap in the face. So I’d just like to say that you don’t need faith to be good-hearted, just like religion doesn’t automatically make you a saint. The godless (or god-free as I would rename) are people too, and although America was much more religious back in the ’60s, I would hate atheist discrimination to continue in the 21st century, as much I would hate racism or homophobia.

Overall, it was a great way to celebrate Labor Day. I myself grew up in a family with a maid, since my grandfather employed a Chilean woman until he died, so I can understand how you can love the help like your own family. She was one of the nicest people I ever met, and I just want to tell her and everyone in her profession, regardless of age or race: thank you.

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