Here’s another movie where I’ve read the book and need to start this post with the dreaded words “the book was better”. It was.
It is good to see a story from this era told from women’s perspectives. The white women were not free from the strictures of their society and were expected to let the help raise their children while they played cards and kept their white gloves clean.
The women’s perspective is a quieter one than we are used to seeing. There is no crime here or racially motivated attack that the white police must investigate – a storyline that has been used and abused since the wonderful To Kill a Mockingbird. This is a story of struggle that takes place in lounge rooms, nurseries and toilets.
The Help is not the best film; it could have been so much more with a little editing of the screenplay and a little more character development. I felt watching it that a lot of the characters were little more than a distraction. Some had a lot more to do in the book and I think the screenplay writer tried too hard to include everyone rather than developing and studying in depth the relationships between the maids and the white folks. Did we really need to see the romance that went nowhere? – in the book we do but in the movie it was pointless it in no way added to what was experienced in the movie and really just distracted from the important story; the plight of the help.
The Help is refreshing in that it showed me a different moment in history. Far enough from slavery for freedom to be a reality but still a way to go before the final days of segregation. Slavery is still a player in this movie and it is a memory passed on from the help’s grandparents. They are still dealing with the repercussions and in 50s Mississippi it still seems so close.
The white folk are predictably obnoxious except for a few who like to treat all people with respect. Dignity in hard times shines from the help. The sadness of watching children grow and loving them deeply but not being given recognition as a parenting figure is tragic. The way these women were passed from pillar to post as if they haven’t spent years with a family raising their children was horrible. In contrast it was nice to see the love the main character had for her nanny and how devastated she was when her parents fired her.
In this town any black American standing up for themselves was punished by word of mouth if the police couldn’t be involved. They would be bad mouthed to every employer and find themselves jobless when they could not afford to be. In the end the sweetest partnership was between a maid shunned for standing up for herself and a white woman not considered good enough for the social class she found herself in. Segregation was also inflicted on the poor white as well as the help but of course to nowhere near the same degree.
This movie could have been so much more but it just doesn’t have any real emotional depth. Just because there is no murder or outright vile racism does not mean we shouldn’t feel outraged by this story. Unfortunately the movie ends up more of a light hearted romp through an era than the emotional ride it should have been.