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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: THE HELP

Some might argue that The Help presents itself as too rosy a movie for a movie about the lives of black maids in the South during the Jim Crow Days. That a movie of its kind should attempt to be painful, and provocative, not, as this movie is, a feel-good dramedy with a white girl as its top billing. But why does it need to be painful? Personally I believe the exaggerated pain drama only help propagate the problem they claim to be fighting against (I am referring of course to Crash, and the like). And that The Help might be just so much more effective a movie because it is not that: it just shows things as they were without caring for exaggerated drama.

The story focuses on two black maids and a white girl, raised by them because her mother was too busy being a socialite, in 1950 Jackson Mississippi. One of the maids, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), has spent her life raising white girls like Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone); she knows more about the children than their own mothers, who never learned how to change a diaper. Yet she is not allowed the house toilet because according to the lady of the house, “black people carry different diseases” (yes, ignorance is a bitch). Aibileen, genuinely loves the kids she raises, but can’t wrap her mind around the fact that when they grow up they tend to turn into their parents (many whom she also helped raise). Aibileen’s friend, Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer), is a maid fired by a local social leader, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard). Hilly is a voracious social climber, who likes things to be as white as possible, from keeping blacks out of white toilets, to setting up charities for the starving African children. Hilly’s younger sister Skeeter returns to Jackson Mississippi after four years in college only to find that Hilly and her mother have fired her beloved nanny, after 29 years of service at their home.

Skeeter convinces Aibileen and Minny to speak frankly about their lives as black maids in a white world. They share their stories, not without hesitation, for what they are doing is illegal in Mississippi. And Skeeter gets a book deal with a publisher in New York. Most of their stories are humorous, simple housekeeping wisdom about life. But quite a few are quite more tragic. The movie manages to find a very fine balance between the two. We can laugh at the basic life skill ignorance of the rich ladies only until it is clear that this ignorance has a very negative side that affects others.

Ignorance is a bitch. And the more ironic part is that many who will and have laughed through this movie are probably guilty of it. Laughter can be the cure, and in this case it likely is. In many ways The Help, is not a movie about race relations, just about the relations between people. Some are good some are bad, some are rich some are not, some are black and some are white but they are all people. The Help is a good movie; it is a sweet movie; and it just happens to be involving and wonderfully acted.

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