Guest Review: The Help is a faithful adaptation

Special thanks to my friend & colleague Susan Martin.

While I read Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, The Help, almost three years ago, seeing the movie adaptation a few weeks ago truly reminded me how much I loved the book. I appreciated the fact that the movie stayed true to the novel in every sense.

The Help is set in the segregated and hierarchical deep South, nearly half a century ago, and writer-director Tate Taylor’s film adaptation captures the time and place in perfect detail. The story starts with Skeeter Phelan, played by Emma Stone, just graduating from college and returning home to Mississippi in the 1960s.

The town is divided by racial lines – black and white – and nowhere is this more evident than in Skeeter’s circle of friends, young women married right out of high school, having children who are raised by the black maids who work for them. This isn’t the life that Skeeter wants, however. She wants to be a serious writer, but she needs a strong story to shop around New York so she is taken seriously. So Skeeter, having gotten a job at the local newspaper writing a housecleaning column, asks one of her friends’ maids for help with tips. But what she really wants is to know how “the help” is treated, about the world from their perspective.

Viola Davis plays Abilene, the maid who originally helps Skeeter with her cleaning column and eventually begins telling her story. This is definitely Davis’ movie, as her acting is phenomenal. Davis and Octavia Spencer, playing the sassy maid Minny, give names and faces to a group of women who were so much more than what they did for a living.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays the villain of the movie, Hilly Holbrook, to perfection. When I first heard that she was being cast as Hilly, I questioned this decision as I pictured someone more villainous to play that role. Someone a little more icy, like Elizabeth Banks or Anne Hathaway. But Howard captured Hilly’s cool and snotty demeanor spot-on.

Another delight was Jessica Chastain, playing the blond, bubbly Celia, who tries to force herself into the social circle only to be ostracized for being “white trash.” Chastain is empathetic and funny as Celia, and I found myself rooting for her as she got her revenge on the evil Hilly near the end.

In terms of its basic plot points, The Help only skims the surface of one of the most painful and violent periods in our country’s history. But it definitely worked on me as a tear-jerker with a terrific cast, and I thought it was the summer’s only decent drama.


Have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

29 thoughts on “Guest Review: The Help is a faithful adaptation

  1. PrairieGirl

    Hi Susan, haven’t seen it yet, but very much looking forward to it, if not in the theater, on DVD for sure. It sounds fascinating.

    1. I haven’t either, but I’ll see if I can catch this before it leaves the cinema.

      Thanks for the review Susan, it’s always nice to hear that a film lives up to the book!

  2. A deciding factor that helped tipped the scales in favor of this flawed movie for me was the fact that yes, it’s black actresses playing maids again, but how often have we ever seen black maids in movies portrayed as actual people, with this degree of attention paid to their lives? I’m thinking in particular of the films of the 30s and 40s, when servant roles were the most a black actor could hope for in Hollywood. By no means does this make ‘The Help’ a great movie (I only gave it 3 1/2 lambs), but I can at least take it in the spirit in which it’s given.

    1. Well if in the actual story the characters are black, then shouldn’t black actresses portray them?? Can’t imagine the backlash if they hire white actresses filling in the roles of Viola Davis and Olivia Spencer. I do agree with you Rich, that I’m glad there are more variety of roles for people of color now, though of course there should be even more of them.

      1. I think you misunderstand me, Ruth. I’m saying that characters like these had been one-dimensional in the past, but here in ‘The Help,’ we’re finally seeing black maid characters that not only feel real, but their stories matter. I didn’t say anything about casting.

        1. Oh sorry, my bad. So yeah, I think it’s great that they create well-developed characters around them. To me, the most memorable black housekeeper will always be Mamie in Gone with the Wind, I heard it was so controversial that Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for it. I’m glad she did as it was an exceptional performance and her character is as memorable as Scarlet herself!

      1. yeah she really was good. i won’t say too much cos i don’t want to spoil anything for anybody who hasn’t seen…the Debt is worth seeing on the big screen, and it surprised me, which takes a bit of doing…but the scenes at the dr’s office were especially good i thought.

        she has that quality where every photo i see of her she looks different.

        1. Yeah, that’s why I mention in my post from Monday that Chastain has that chameleon quality about her, it’s always nice to see in an actress. Yeah, that hospital scene is sooo tense. I’m hoping to review the movie this weekend, been soooo busy w/ other stuff that I haven’t gotten around to it.

        1. Oh right, I almost forgot she was in Terminator Salvation. I haven’t seen the two you mentioned Dez, but if it’s by Branagh I should check it out. I saw the trailer for THE LOSS OF A TEARDROP DIAMOND, that’s w/ Chris Evans right, I’ve been meaning to see that, looks like a sweet romantic movie.

  3. Hi Susan, I like your review.

    I haven’t seen this and to be honest as ruth knows i will probably not see it unless free tickets were waved under my nose.

    Having said that the story looks great and the cast awesome, I love Emma Stone in anything she does. Thanks for writing this up for Ruth

    S

    1. Emma Stone is really the ‘IT’ girl right now but can’t say I’m surprised, she is lovely and can actually act, what a breath of fresh air compared to other pretty young starlets who only have beauty going for them. Thanks matey!

  4. Hi, Ruth and company:

    I’m kind of with Ted on ‘The Help’.

    It seems that Hollywood brings out a film about the South in the 1950s and 60s every couple of years. Several of them based on novels by Pat Conroy. From ‘Conrack’ to ‘The Great Santini’ and ‘The Lords Of Discipline’.

    Having grown up through this era. I really don’t need another Hollywood take
    on those times. From ‘Black Like Me’, to ‘Mississippi Burning’ and now ‘The Help’. Hollywood rarely gets it right. Though, ‘The Great Santini’ is still the best of their offerings.

    1. I’m curious, why do you think Hollywood doesn’t get it right w/ The Help? I guess not growing up here in America, I’m kind of in the dark about the race issues. I’m always fascinated by films that deal with racism though I probably don’t know if it’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ interpretation so I judge it simply on the film’s merit.

      1. Hi, Ruth:

        Perhaps I focused too much on the times and not the merits of the film. That you enjoyed the film is enough.

        I respect you and this site too much to initiate a heated discussion of how Hollywood depicts race relations in the South from the 1950s to today.

        Though if you check out films like ‘The Defiant Ones’ with Tony Curtis from 1958. ‘Pressure Point’ with Bobby Darin from 1962. ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ with Sidney Poitier from 1967. ‘Cool Hand Luke’ from 1967 and ‘Easy Rider’ from 1969. I’m sure you’ll find a common thread.

        1. Oh I haven’t seen the movie, Jack, this is my friend Susan’s review. I was just curious to hear your thought because of the backlash I’ve been hearing about the depiction of racial issues in this movie. I don’t mind a healthy discussion about the topic, though I’m afraid without having seen enough films on it or know about the history behind it, I don’t really have anything to add. Thanks as always, Jack.

  5. Susan

    Thanks everyone for the great comments on my review! By the way, Ruth, I agree with you – Bryce Dallas Howard was great in the Village. I know I am in the minority, but i really enjoyed that movie! I think BDH is a great actress and I was surprised to see how well she did portraying the villain in The Help.

  6. I absolutely loved this one, but I never read the book. It is good to hear that it stayed pretty true to the book…but on the flip side it is a little sad too…only because I felt that Skeeter’s love interest storyline was highly unnecessary and underdeveloped. I had hoped it was given more time to develop in the book.

    very nice review!

  7. I have already given a lot of my thoughts on this one, but I just didn’t find it very effective. Susan mentions my biggest problem with the film, it just scratches the surface of the trouble during the time when it could’ve gone much deeper.

    The performances are the reason to see the film, since all the actresses put in fine contributions to the film.

  8. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    This looks great. I really appreciate your review as I’ve seen this at the video store but have wondered whether it was engaging enough. You’ve convinced me it is. Good job! I’m definitely going to hire it, now, no hesitation. Love the sound of it.

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