Letters

Letters 10-20-2014

Doctor Dan? After several email conversations with Rep. Benishek, he has confirmed that he doesn’t have a clue of what he does. Here’s why...

In Favor Of Our Parks [Traverse] City Proposal 1 is a creative way to improve our city parks without using our tax dollars. By using a small portion of our oil and gas royalties from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund, our parks can be improved for our children and grandchildren.

From January 1970 Popular Mechanics: “Drastic climate changes will occur within the next 50 years if the use of fossil fuels keeps rising at current rates.” That warning comes from Eugene K. Peterson of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

Newcomers Might Leave: Recently we had guests from India who came over as students with the plan to stay in America. He has a master’s degree in engineering and she is doing her residency in Chicago and plans to specialize in oncology. They talked very candidly about American politics and said that after observing...

Someone Is You: On Sept 21, I joined the 400,000 who took to the streets of New York in the People’s Climate March, followed by a UN Climate Summit and many speeches. On October 13, the Pentagon issued a report calling climate change a significant threat to national security requiring immediate action. How do we move from marches, speeches and reports to meaningful work on this problem? In NYC I read a sign with a simple answer...

Necessary To Pay: Last fall, Grand Traverse voters authorized a new tax to fix roads. It is good, it is necessary.

The Real Reasons for Wolf Hunt: I have really been surprised that no one has been commenting on the true reason for the wolf hunt. All this effort has not been expended so 23 wolves can be killed each year. Instead this manufactured controversy about the wolf hunt has been very carefully crafted to get Proposal 14-2 passed.

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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.

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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