The Help: Movie Review

[RATING:3.5]

Director: Tate Taylor

Cast & Crew: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ahna O`Reilly, Mike Vogel

Synopsis: Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends` lives — and a Mississippi town — upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. Aibileen, Skeeter`s best friend`s housekeeper, is the first to open up — to the dismay of her friends in the tight-knit black community. Despite Skeeter`s life-long friendships hanging in the balance, she and Aibileen continue their collaboration and soon more women come forward to tell their stories — and as it turns out, they have a lot to say. Along the way, unlikely friendships are forged and a new sisterhood emerges, but not before everyone in town has a thing or two to say themselves when they become unwittingly — and unwillingly — caught up in the changing times.

Review: “They carry different diseases than we do.”  This statement in ‘The Help’ directed by Tate Taylor is a rampantly racist sentiment that resonates throughout the movie. One that takes you back to the passages of books penned by Joseph Conrad that almost felt like he was romanticizing racism. The illogical statement itself reflects the paranoia that the whites subject themselves to when encountering African-Americans. The movie that aims to recreate the poignancy of the New York Times best seller by Kathryn Stockett has a compelling cast that literally brings back the repressive era of the 1960’s before the screen. A US Box Office Topper, it is a socially relevant film that is set against the backdrop of Jackson, a small, lush and lavish town in Mississippi, where African-American women serve as house helps. They adapt to racism despite being deeply hit by it simply because the inhabitants of the town and the law and order see them as far lesser mortals. Tragic tales surface with great comic timing. If only the rebellion had been more well etched and adventurous ala Erin Brokovich. A lot of celluloid space was unfairly meted out to the aristocratic snobbery of the white women who seemed rather obsessed with their high teas brimming with air kisses and chocolate pies. Nonetheless the film is way too poignant to be disappointing.

Academy award nominated Voila Davis plays the character of Aibileen who is the binding force of the movie as well as the African-American voice that dares to speak up against atrocities. All of 53, her life takes a leap after a long hiatus as a housemaid of three generations who has a record of successfully raising 17 white children so far. From a silent observer to a silent protester it is she who comes to the rescue of Skeeter, an aspiring writer played by Emma Stone who brings about a big revolution in a small town riddled with oppression. Skeeter with her empathy inspires Aibileen and through her a host of other African-American house helps to speak up against the decade long cruelty each one of them has faced in the prominent white houses in the vicinity. Joining Skeeter in her bold mission is Minny played by the boisterous and endearing Octavia Spencer. Minny along with Aibileen becomes the daredevil of her community and uses her flawless baking skills to rebel against her employer who sacks her for daring to use her toilet. This one culinary rebellion should go down in history. Once you watch the movie you will know why.

Hilly played by Bryce Dallas Howard is quite the socially adept queen bee of the town who does a great job at being poised but scathing towards Skeeter as she fast suspects the notorious undercover activity that might be surfacing. Of course towards the end Minny leaves Hilly irreversibly ashamed. All through a secret writing project that stirs her and Aibileen to give a no holds barred account of their lives as maids employed by whites. Moments where Skeeters is seen confronting her mother on why her housemaid was fired out of the blue is heart rending. Aibileens motherly affection despite losing her son to a racist attack leaves you baffled. His smiling picture on the wall propelling her to hold back tears. It expresses such supremacy of human will. The church scene where she is greeted by a heart rending applause by the African-Americans surrounding her is so believable. She is awkward but amply grateful for being recognized for her courage. Towards the end we see her not as a despondent figure but one who leaves the lesser life with tremendous dignity. At last with her head held high.

Not a movie for the masses that may be partial to mainstream. For many whom social activism is a passion, you will find a lot of poignant rebellion in the script. It’s slow but surefooted in its mission to deliver a strong message against racism. Which is why it does not surprise me that the book by the same name spent 103 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list? Watch it if you think twice before picking a V.S. Naipaul book that  as as critics aptly observe repackages racism through clever talk. Watch it if you are a social activism loyalist.  Watch it if you think all women are bonded by an invisible spirit of sisterhood and lastly watch it if you believe that sharing personal history is cathartic and a definite way to create public history.

Pashmina Narang

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