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movie review: The Help

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This review is spoiler-free. (You’re welcome!)

Every time I read a book for which there is a movie counterpart, I am concerned that the movie will “ruin” the book. If you’re a reader, you know: rare is the movie that lives up to its book. Even more seldom, then, does the movie improve upon the book.

After reading The Help last week and seeing the movie tonight, I have to applaud director and screenwriter Tate Taylor.

Though Taylor did make some changes to Kathryn Stockett’s original novel and though he presented some surprises, they were all pleasant ones. Every plot detail he chose to tweak was conceived to improve the story. As a reader, I felt treated to surprises he incorporated into the movie. Little things, like innocent-looking pies, foreshadowed hints to what I knew was to come.

I went into the theater wanting to meet Celia most, as she was easily my favorite character in the novel. Having met the characters “in person” now, though, she is one of a handful of favorites. I loved Skeeter’s more outspoken nature, Aibie’s obvious love for all her children, and Minny’s rarely-shown tender side. The characters weren’t just dressed for the part, they became the people who’d formed in my imagination. Some of the minor characters were narrow, of course, but the ones I loved most were well-developed and satisfying.

What made me happiest was what I was struck with by the end of the movie. The strength of the theme: people are good. Maybe I’m idealistic (okay, I know I’m idealistic), but I want to believe in what Aibie tells her white babies: “you are kind, you are smart, you are important.” This movie told of horrific events in our lifetime, but it held the promise of better times to come.

The Help is rated PG-13 and is 137 minutes long. Its screenplay was written and directed by Tate Taylor, starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer. Watch a trailer, read the book if you’re so inclined, and go see it.


book review: The Help

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As of this morning, I was on page 219 of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This evening, I’ve buzzed through all 521 pages. As many of my friends have said, “I couldn’t put it down.”

Actually, for a little while I didn’t want to read past page 219. I really didn’t want to know the worst would befall the characters I’d already come to know and care about.

Very rarely do characters in books become as real as the people in my life that I love. These ladies managed to do so in a very short span of time. Even if the worst happened, I had to learn more about them.

That, and the movie is coming out on Friday. I tell my students that they *must always* read a book before seeing a movie because it’s the only way an intelligent person can make an informed judgement in comparison, so I feel obligated to follow the same rule. Plus, I believe in the sense of this particular law. So what if it’s nearly always the book that’s better? (Except, of course, in the unfortunate incident of P.S. I Love You, but I’m really starting to get off track here…)

Anyway… if you haven’t heard, the premise of the book is this. In the early 1960s, Skeeter Phelan has come home from college to Jackson, Mississippi. She wants to write, but the best she can do is the housekeeping column in the local paper. She enlists the help of a friend’s maid because she has never cared for a home, herself. Her family’s own maid had made that possible.

As she continues to look for writing opportunities, Skeeter earns the attention of a New York publisher. As a result, she begins writing the maids’ own stories. In today’s world, fighting for equality is a common idea. But fewer than fifty years ago, the fear of repercussions — blackballing, threats, death — were real.

Besides my concern for the characters in their time period, I enjoyed the little details Stockett wove into the book. For one, I never knew that remote controls were once called Space Controllers! And when one of the characters wanted time alone with her boyfriend because he probably wouldn’t brush her hair off her face if they were around others? Such an old fashioned and simple thrill. If only today’s love stories could be so innocent.

This book is told with poise and humor that few books have. I only hope the movie does it justice. If nothing else, they best not miss the lesson of this book: that no matter the color of one’s skin, or the station of their birth, everyone can be “kind, smart, and important.”

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