Reason for the Rating: Thematic material.
Plot Summary: Aspiring writer, Skeeter, decides to write a book from the perspective of black household servants living and working in volatile Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s .
PopFam Recommends: The Help is thought-provoking and heart-warming, beautifully—if simply—portraying the challenges of living amidst racism in the South in the 1960s. A must-see for most families with tweens and teens.
This is the movie we've been waiting all summer to see. Harry Potter was a great ending to a saga, Captain America was fun and full of effects, but The Help...this is a powerful movie that stays with you and lingers in the back of your brain. The story, the acting, the soundtrack— everything down to the sets is impactful and perfect.
Based on a novel by the same name, The Help is set in the early 1960's at the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) recently graduated from Ole Miss and has yet to get married or begin a family. Which sets her apart from the girls she grew up with. Skeeter has goals, which include more than a family...a crazy idea in those days. Specifically, she wants to be a writer, and so she begins looking for something interesting to write about. What she comes up with is something that has been in front of her her whole life. The Help. The maids who come into white homes to cook, clean, and care for the children. What is life like from their perspective?
In the early 60's there were laws to monitor the interaction between whites and blacks, which means Skeeter must tread lightly in finding help who will talk. Luckily, she finds a maid, Aibileen (Viola Davis), who's white employer recently built her a bathroom, outside, so she wouldn't use their toilets. "They carry different diseases than we do," says Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), Skeeter's friend from high school. "I'm just thinking of our children." It's the final act that drives Aibileen to tell her story to Skeeter.
Aibileen's best friend is Minny (Octavia Spencer), a back-talking maid who finds herself fired by Hilly. Unfortunately for Minny, Hilly is climbing the social ladder and hungry for power. She tarnishes Minny's reputation as a maid, and no one will hire her. This leaves Minny to seek employment from Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), a newcomer in town who Hilly despises. Celia is different from any other white woman Minny has ever met. She'll hug a black woman. Share a meal with the maid. Even share secrets no one else knows about.
The story of The Help is so interwoven with details, it's impossible to relay all that happens. There's a Junior League fundraiser that goes awry, toilets in the lawn, lots of fried chicken, and a pie that will make you cringe. More importantly though, there are surprising friendships and connections made that will draw you into the lives of its characters, make you laugh, and most likely make you cry.
There are those who have criticized movie and book alike for not being an accurate reflection of racial issues during the 60's, of setting a white woman as the savior of the black women, etc, etc. Which I find interesting for several reasons. Regardless, this is a movie that portrays courage and integrity in difficult situations, friendship under fire, and will certainly spark meaningful discussion of both moral and spiritual issues. Parents should be aware that while this is a story of courage, integrity, and friendship, there are scenes that are quite emotional. Witnessing the mistreatment of others can be disturbing for many, and while violence isn't shown, it is implied in a way that might be upsetting for young children.
As an avid reader, I loved this book. And surprisingly I also loved the movie. I think you will too. Just remember to bring some Kleenex.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray/DVD 2-Disc Combo Pack are actually kind of light--surprising in this instance. In any case, they include deleted scenes...more deleted scenes, a "making of" featurette, and a tribute of sorts to maids of Mississippi.
Let’s Talk About It
Use these questions to spark discussion among family members who are interested in this movie:
• Aibileen copes with the injustices at her job with polite silence, while Minny responds with a smart mouth (and other tactics). Who do you think you would be most like?
• Do you think you would have been brave enough to speak up if you were Minny or Aibileen?
• Have you ever witnessed someone being discriminated against? What did you do? What do you wish you had done?
--JW, with AV
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