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Letters 07-25-2016

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Families Need Representation When one party dominates the Michigan administration and legislature, half of Michigan families are not represented on the important issues that face our state. When a policy affects the non-voting K-12 students, they too are left out, especially when it comes to graduation requirements...

Raise The Minimum Wage I wanted to offer a different perspective on the issue of raising the minimum wage. The argument that raising the minimum wage will result in job loss is a bogus scare tactic. The need for labor will not change, just the cost of it, which will be passed on to the consumer, as it always has...

Make Cherryland Respect Renewable Cherryland Electric is about to change their net metering policy. In a nutshell, they want to buy the electricity from those of us who produce clean renewable electric at a rate far below the rate they buy electricity from other sources. They believe very few people have an interest in renewable energy...

Settled Science Climate change science is based on the accumulated evidence gained from studying the greenhouse effect for 200 years. The greenhouse effect keeps our planet 50 degrees warmer due to heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. Basic principles of physics and chemistry dictate that Earth will warm as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase...

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THE HELP offers a vanilla civics lesson

None - August 19th, 2011  


“The Help” is a safe film about a volatile subject. Presenting itself as the story of how African-American maids in the South viewed their employers during Jim Crow days, it is equally the story of how they empowered a young white woman to write a best-seller about them, and how that book transformed the author’s mother. We are happy for the two white women, and a third, but as the film ends it is still Jackson, Miss., and Ross Barnett is still governor.

Still, this is a good film, involving and wonderfully acted. I was drawn into the characters and quite moved, even though all the while I was aware it was a feel-good fable, a story that deals with pain but doesn’t care to be that painful. We don’t always go to the movies for searing truth, but more often for reassurance: Yes, racism is vile and cruel, but hey, not all white people are bad.

The story, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-seller, focuses on Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a recent college graduate who comes home and finds she doesn’t fit in so easily. Stone has top billing, but her character seems a familiar type, and the movie is stolen, one scene at a time, by two other characters: Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer).

Both are maids. Aibileen has spent her life as a nanny, raising little white girls. She is very good at it, and genuinely gives them her love, although when they grow up they have an inexorable tendency to turn into their mothers. Minny is a maid who is fired by a local social leader, then hired by a white-trash blonde. Davis and Spencer have such luminous qualities that this becomes their stories, perhaps not entirely by design.

The society lady, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), is a relentless social climber who fires Minny after long years of service. The blonde is Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain, from “The Tree of Life”), who is married to a well-off businessman, is desperate to please him, and never learned anything about being a housewife.

Minny needs a job and is happy to work for her. Celia wants her only during the days, when her husband is away, so that he’ll think he’s eating her cooking and enjoying her housekeeping. Minny helps her with these tasks and many more, some heartbreaking, and fills her with realistic advice.

Chastain is unaffected and infectious in her performance.

Celia doesn’t listen to Minny’s counsel, however, when she attends a big local charity event (for, yes, Hungry African Children), and the event provides the movie’s comic centerpiece. Celia’s comeuppance doesn’t have much to do with the main story, but it gets a lot of big laughs. Some details about a pie seem to belong in a different kind of movie.

Skeeter convinces Aibileen and then Minny to speak frankly with her, sharing their stories, and as the book develops so does her insight and anger. A somber subplot involves the mystery of why Skeeter’s beloved nanny, who worked for the family for 29 years, disappeared while Skeeter was away at school. Her mother (Allison Janney) harbors the secret of the nanny’s disappearance, and after revealing it she undergoes a change of heart in a big late scene of redemption.

Two observations, for what they’re worth. All the white people in the movie smoke. None of the black people do. There are white men with speaking roles, but no black men speaking in the movie except a preacher.

There was a 1991 movie named “The Long Walk Home” that starred Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek as a maid and her employer at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott. It had sharper edges than “The Help.” But I suppose the Stockett novel has many loyal readers, and that this is the movie they imagined while reading it. It’s very entertaining.

Viola Davis is a force of nature, and Octavia Spencer has a wonderfully expressive face and flawless comic timing. Praise, too for Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard and Allison Janney. They would have benefitted from a more fearless screenplay. Rating: Three stars.

 
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