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.

Five for the Fifth – 5 Questions for The 5th of September

Happy 5th of September everybody… and to my American friends, Happy Labor Day!

As promised on the August edition, I’m going to try to make this a monthly post. Well, the gist of the post is simple… I give you five random news item/observation/trailer, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic (you can do all five or just pick a topic). Ok, let’s get on with it, shall we?

1. Well, since it’s Labor Day, I thought I’ll have one of the questions be workplace-related. For some reason the first thing that came to mind involves one of the most memorable movie bosses… which is none other than Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl Streep is nothing short of phenomenal as the icy queen of fashion, looking all stylish & gorgeous and packing a glare chilly enough to freeze your heart in seconds.

Even after the release of Horrible Bosses, I’d think that Miranda would still top the list of most intimidating bosses ever, and her perfectionist nature can send her employees’ high blood pressure shooting up faster than she can say ‘that is all.’ I love this ‘arrival’ scene and especially Emily Blunt’s twitchy performance as Miranda’s assistant.

So my question to you is: Who’s your favorite cinematic boss?

2. It was Keanu Reeves’ 47th Birthday last Friday. I tweeted that I couldn’t believe he’s only 3 years shy of 50 given how youthful he still looks! He was last seen in Henry’s Crime with Vera Farmiga and James Caan and I’m anticipating his upcoming movie 47 Ronin (ha, quite an interesting coincidence regarding that number!), which is set in the 18th century about on a band of samurai who set out to avenge the death of their master.

Despite not being the most expressive actors, I quite like Keanu’s work. He’s always watchable even in dismal movies (well ok, except for the insufferable The Lake House). I like him both in action flicks (i.e. The Matrix) and in dramatic ones. As I’ve said many times before, I love him in A Walk in the Clouds, one of my fave unconventionally-romantic flicks. But my all time favorite movie of his has got to be Speed.

How about you? What’s your favorite Keanu Reeves movie?

3. I saw The Debt on Saturday (review coming later this week) and it was the first time I saw Jessica Chastain on screen. Just a year ago, she was a complete unknown but this year alone she is in three high profile movies, Tree of Life, The Help and The Debt. It’s even more impressive that the last two movies I mentioned are box office winners this weekend as The Help holds the #1 spot for 3 weekends in a row, and The Debt took the #2 spot. She will also be seen in Coriolanus that’s scheduled to be released in limited theaters in December.

Chastain in Tree of Life, The Help & The Debt

I guess one movie is perhaps not enough to judge someone’s work, but I’d say she’s quite talented and has a pretty strong screen presence. Judging from just the photos above, she seems like a versatile actress with somewhat of a chameleon quality, always a plus if you want to have longevity in Hollywood. I kind of like the fact that she is beautiful but not in a threatening or bimbo-ish kind of way.

What movie have you seen Jessica Chastain in? What do you think of her work?

4. Now this movie has opened in Europe but hasn’t been released widely in the US, yet. Not sure if it’s perhaps going straight to DVD here? In any case, I’ve featured Killing Bono back in March last year when I first heard about it and I thought it was interesting. Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian in the Narnia series) is playing Neil McCormick, the lead singer of U2’s rival band. Check out the trailer if you haven’t already:

The movie will chronicle the early days of U2 from a rival band’s perspective, which is based on Neil McCormick’s book Killing Bono: I Was Bono’s Doppleganger. Apparently Bono himself wrote the foreword, and apparently the man himself came up with the ‘killing Bono’ idea, “… McCormick frankly sees Bono as his doppelganger, getting every opportunity that he wanted and desired, while McCormick seems to meet with every bad break under the sun.

It also stars the late Pete Postlethwaite in his last movie role as he passed away last January 😦 I intend to rent this one when it’s available on Netflix. My hubby is a big fan of U2 but even if you’re not a fan of their music, it seems like an amusing rivalry tale with plenty of great Irish rock music.

Has anyone seen this movie? If not, what’s your favorite movie about a rock band?

5. Last but not least… with all the news about his soon-to-be-released movies, I thought I’d talk about one of Gerard Butler‘s upcoming project. Back in early August, Butler is cast in The Bricklayer.

Per THR, Boyd is actually a pseudonym used by former FBI agent Paul Lindsay. In the book, his main character, Steve Vail, is a former FBI agent, working as a Chicago bricklayer, whom the agency reaches out to help track down and combat the criminal gang.

The plot also involves a female deputy director Kate Bannon at the FBI who is assigned to work with Vail – a part that that has not yet been cast. In the novel, there’s sexual tension abounds between Vail and Banon, well naturally! Empire quipped that “…the part will no doubt be handed to some big-name actress. Hopefully not Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston…” My sentiment exactly! I sure hope they’d cast someone closer to Butler’s age of 41, so someone in the mid to upper 30s would be nice.

First on my wish list would be Vera Farmiga (38), who was actually cast as Butler’s wife on Machine Gun Preacher, but had to turn it down as she got pregnant and didn’t want to be traveling to Africa during her pregnancy. My other choices would be Maggie Gyllenhaal (34) or if they want someone a bit older, Naomi Watts (43) should fit the bill nicely. It’d also be nice to see the studio cast a non-white actress for the role, someone like Rashida Jones (35) or Paula Patton (36) perhaps?

So my last question to you is… who would you cast opposite Butler?

Well, that’s it for this month’s Five for the Fifth. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 😀