A group of ladies from our ward had a Girls Night Out last night. We went out to dinner and then saw The Help. I hadn’t read Kathryn Stockett’s book, although I’ve heard wonderful things about it. I’ve heard wonderful things about a lot of books, but I can’t read them all right this minute. I will, however, be reading it now. I loved the movie, and I’m a very firm believer in the old “the book is way better” argument. I’ve heard the audiobook is awesome, too, but I want to be able to go back and reread certain passages and whatnot. You can’t do that easily with an audiobook, but I’ll probably download it through Overdrive eventually.
On the surface, The Help is about Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan’s quest to write a book about her world in Jackson, Mississippi, as seen through the eyes of the help: the black maids who do all the cooking, cleaning, and child raising. Unlike all of her socialite friends, Skeeter wants more than a rich husband and a nice home. She stayed in college the whole four years and got her degree. Now she wants to be a writer — a serious journalist, or maybe a novelist. When advised to write about a topic that really means something to her — something that no one else will write, she comes up with the idea of life in Jackson, Mississippi, from the viewpoint of the maids that do all the work. Assisting her in this endeavor are Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson, the first two women with the courage to share their stories.
Aibileen and Minny are the real stars of the show. Fully aware that their actions are illegal by Mississippi Law, they join the cause for different reasons. Aibileen is inspired by a sermon at church about courage. I wish I could remember the exact words, but the preacher talks about courage being more than just enduring. Courage is standing up and stepping forward. Minny has recently lost her job for daring to use her boss’ indoor toilet, rather than walk through a hurricane to get to the outdoor one built especially for her use. Aibileen has a quiet, gentle dignity. Since the death of her son, she has found her happiness mainly in caring for Mae Mobley, her employer’s two-year-old daughter. Minny is a no-nonsense mother of five who has trouble keeping her “sass” to herself.
There are enough comical scenes and lines to keep the movie from getting too heavy, but not enough to detract from the overall message of inequality and the hypocrisy that society showed toward the people who played such vital, albeit humble, roles in day-to-day life. One of my favorite scenes plays the juxtaposition of comical and serious quite well. (If you don’t want to read this before you see the movie yourself — or read the book, you can skip to the next paragraph, but it isn’t a key scene in the plot.) Skeeter plays a joke on lead villain Hilly Holbrook by changing a request in the local newsletter from “Please drop off your old coats at the Holbrook home” to “Please drop off your old commodes….” In the midst of the media frenzy at Hilly’s house, complete with gawkers and reporters snapping photos of all the old toilets spread out around Hilly’s “lawn of the month” sign, little Mae Mobley shows off her new potty training skills to her mother by going in the nearest toilet. Her mother is appalled and rewards Mae’s efforts with a scolding and spanking. Poor Mae turns to Aibilene, who comforts her with their daily mantra of “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
I feel it’s important to point out that not all of the maid’s stories were negative. One old woman tells of an employer who bought a significant chunk of his neighbor’s farmland just so she could use it as a shortcut to work. All of the scenes with children show a positive relationship between child and nanny. It’s obvious that Aibileen loves Mae Mobley and would put up with just about anything in order to remain her caregiver.
Just go see it. And if you are prone to crying, bring tissues. There are a few scenes where you’ll need them. Language warning: mostly for the “terrible, awful thing” and related scenes, but also for Mr. Golden from the newspaper, though we don’t see much of him.
P.S. — I got my driveway back yesterday!