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The Help (2011)
Reviewed on 2011 December 14
Speaking as a woman with a Southern family, I recently learned a phrase to describe an evil person that covers a multitude of sins: ‘bastard-coated bastard with bastard filling’. The phrase has two shortcomings: it’s not something I’d want to use in front of my mom at a Sunday dinner, no matter how much the person I was skewering deserved it, and it doesn’t work well for females. After watching Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance last night, I came up with my own offering for the female version of this creature: the sugar-frosted, Southern-fried bee-yotch.
Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) returns to her town after finishing college, ignoring her mother Charlotte’s (Allison Janney) fussing over her hair and lack of husband, to try to pursue a career. Skeeter wants to be a journalist, something that from the beginnings separates her from the Junior League fluff-brains that normally orbit the ’60s social circle of her Mississippi town.
The other two problems are Skeeter’s conscience and spine, both of which go into overdrive when she observes the treatment of the help by the wifey-poos. The worst offender is the queen bee, the SFSFB in charge, Hilly Holbrook (Howard, channeling Satan to do this thing). With enough moonshine in her, Hilly might well have put a sheet over her head one night, had Ralph Lauren been making them back then. As it is she wields her power over the other women and their help like a club. The irritated Skeeter decides to write a book from the viewpoint of the African American women hired to work in these fancy houses where they can’t even use the same facilities as their employers. She gets her first source in Abileen (Viola Davis), who agrees to talk to her anonymously after seeing too much of Hilly’s nonsense and worn down by the weak parenting of the house where she works.
The movie didn’t pull me in like I’d hoped, but it was good. A lot of people tended to see some racism in the script, and I mean beyond the deliberate stuff of Hilly and her posse acting like a bunch of pseudo-genteel idiots. I saw it more as a bunch of women pulling together to change a bunch of inane social and racial mores. I also felt it dragged a bit and some of it was predictable, but one thing I did give it credit for was how some characters did change and grow. Skeeter is the one that opened the can of worms, but had the maids not been brave enough to tell their stories, there would have been no book. Howard was incredible as Hilly, and I also enjoyed the colorful Celia character, played with bubbly charm by Jessica Chastain. It was also a nice break from stereotype to see her hire Minny and treat her like an employee (and friend) rather than an indentured servant.
Two chocolate morsels and a mint julep.