Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Help

Prepare to be catapulted fifty years into the past with The Help, which does an amazing job of showing us the other side of the servant relationship.

And by the "other" side, I mean more than one side. Black maids who worked for less than reasonable wages, who raised white children, loved them very much, often at the expense of their own, workers who knew more about the workings of the house than anyone else. Employees who weren't supposed to touch anything in the house more than they absolutely had to, who couldn't use the household bathrooms. Who were invisible to most people living there, except for the young children.

It's an amazing, transformative movie. While The Help is moving much because of its story, the actors push the story into our consciousness because of superb casting. The maids, especially, are alarmingly true. Viola Davis is the only one, I'm convinced, who could play the part of Aibileen, and thank goodness the writer/director was convinced of that fact as well. I have never seen Octavia Spencer ("Minny") and her work, but this just may be the role that puts her on the map. Only great actresses could be in the same frame as Ms. Davis and be noticed at all. But there are so many others who contribute to this piece: Bryce Dallas Howard, forgettable in Spider-Man, shines as the employer who is really a slave owner, determined to keep everyone, including white trash, in their place. Allison Janney is amazing as the mother of Skeeter, the young woman who decides to chronicle the maid's stories, a mother who seems forced into a role she's quite uncomfortable taking just because society demands it.

I spent a little time visiting in the south in the early sixties to know what was going on, even though I was only 12. I have some southern friends who vouch for the veracity of these tales. But I had no idea what all went on. And I would venture that what I witnessed was only a partial tale.

Thumb's up. Expect some action during award season. The Help will be right up there.


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