Wanted: Your Thoughts about “The Help”… the Film

It came out this week.  I saw it.  I’m betting you did, too.  Or will soon.

You’re invited to share your thoughts here, either in general or in context to our recent deconstruction series on the book.  If you missed it, it’s all available in the July archives.  Dig in and join the discussion!

My take: great acting, and a wonderful adaptation.  The approach to the story has been criticized, and while I understand the commentary, the overall adaptation is really good, one of the most literal I’ve ever seen.  I smell Oscar action, at least for two or three actors.

Also… a MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT is forthcoming within a day or two about a new Storyfix feature that will allow you to post your work here on the site and give your peers a chance to review and comment.  Stay tuned.

15 Comments

Filed under "The Help" Deconstruction series

15 Responses to Wanted: Your Thoughts about “The Help”… the Film

  1. Olga Oliver

    Hello Larry – I live in the sticks of an East Texas town, 80 miles east of Dallas. I spoke with my sister in Dallas yesterday. She gave me information of how Dallas is accepting The Help – book and movie. The afternoon matinees and evening showings were all sold out. People lined up for blocks in this damn heat. She couldn’t wait for the Wall Street Journal this morning to see the proceeds. She is rather social and in all her get togethers, The Help has a speech on everyone’s tongue. She said the “to do” over it reminds her of Gone with the Wind. Now Larry, how does this happen? Did the publishers just happen to do everything right? I agree that the book is good, shows us how things were (and still are to a degree) but for heavens sake, it’s rocking. Why??

    Olga

  2. I did not read the book but saw the film this weekend. It’s overall a good film, I was struck in particular by an outstanding scene: the scene in which neighbors bring commodes to leave on the antagonist’s lawn. That scene turned from hilarity to horror to empathy in no more than a few seconds – very difficult to achieve, and admirable. We should all hope to write one such perfect scene in our lives.

  3. Donna Lodge

    I had several reactions to “The Help” – the movie.
    1) Home Run
    2) Multiple Oscars
    3) Spot-on casting (for the most part)
    4) Terrific staging, houses, clothing, cars evocative of the period, lots of small, authentic details.
    5) I don’t think the movie captured the sense of menace, danger, and the real violence in the segregated south at that time as represented in the novel. A bit of a rosy glow that was there souldn’t have been there. There’s a fairly new documentary, called “Freedom Riders” which captures everything the “The Help” – the movie – and the novel -didn’t. “Freedom Riders” is horrifying to watch, but the archival footage doesn’t lie about what happened during that time. It’s a good reality check.

  4. @Olga — I think this movie is a perfect storm of converging stuff that causes those lines. First, a bestseller on the scale of this book lays the groundwork. The book sold well for the same reasons the movie will explode – it touches core emotional and social issues in a very personal way, it takes a strong stand, and most of all, it’s very personal in a non-political way. One of those personal aspects, I think, it Aibileen’s humanity in the face of the shallowness of those horrific white women… the scenes of her with May Mobley (“You is good…” etc.) were pure genius. As writers, that scene alone is a clinic in creating reader empathy. You can’t help but love and root for Aibileen after that. It’s heart wrenching… it’s perfection, even if the book/movie isn’t quite there (but close, my opinion).

    @David — spot on comment, thanks. I agree, may we all at least aspire to something at this level.

    @Donna — I agree. My only counter-point was the target social landscape didn’t seek to leverage the overall sociallogical danger of the prejudice, but rather, the personal impact of it within this mircocosm, which was so accepted and unchallengable at the time. I agree, as a broad social commentary the story isn’t quite the definitive tome that, say, “Freedom Writers” is/was, but it’s a completely new and powerful take on one of many highly personal experiences that — and this is one of the story’s genius strategies — we’ve never seen addressed before. Thoughts? L.

  5. Donna Lodge

    Larry @ says – “the target social landscape didn’t seek to leverage the overall sociallogical danger of the prejudice, but rather, the personal impact of it within this mircocosm, which was so accepted and unchallengable at the time.”

    Okay, I get the distinction and agree with your point. I think the film is well done, but I know that I wasn’t just “fully invested” in the novel as I read it, but “overly invested.” It didn’t help that two women in the theater a few seats away commented (out loud) about what scenes were left out the the movie every 30 seconds or so (Ebert and Roper they weren’t 🙂

    I also thought that a movie script not adapted from a novel has different audience expectations, because you have nothing to refer to/no expectations when you see the film.

  6. I was born and bred in Fort Worth and live a skip north of Big D. I saw both Harry Potter finale and The Help on the first Saturday after they came out. Remember, HP has a wider appeal because it appeals to kids. Well, the theater was more packed for The Help than HP.

    I talked to my mom about it since she lived through those times in Fort Worth. She didn’t witness the kinds of problems exposed in the book / movie. Texas had a different mentality than Mississippi and other deep South states.

    {Spoiler ahead}

    I loved the movie and am very pleased with the adaptation. Two points of book vs movie. I don’t see why they couldn’t add one more line to say Aibee took over the Miss Myrna column to let us know (especially those who didn’t read book) that she’s take care of.

    Second point — was glad they didn’t show how Hilly turned the toilets on the lawn into an opportunity by giving them away to people who needed to build bathrooms. That was a sore point in the book and appreciated not reliving it again on film. 🙂

  7. Olga Oliver

    Hi Meryl – I grew up in central south Texas and agree that we were a little different than the deep southern states; however, we too, carried a much needed change. An example: About a half mile up and across the highway from our farm house was a Negro one-room school house. The route for the school bus provided for white children ran about 15, maybe 20 miles through the farming communities picking up kids. There was no transportation for Negro children. The white children’s school bus would pass the walking black children. They had to walk. Weather didn’t matter. Rain, sleet, ice and snow, the little black kids were passed. Sometime a white kid on the bus would yell at the driver to stop and pick up the black kids. Sometime the driver would yell back. “Can’t.” A silence would fall over the bus for a while, and I know now that within that silence a change was forming.

  8. Marilyn Van Tiem

    I’m with you, Larry. I smell Oscar action, too! I loved it! Having grown up in Detroit in the 60’s, I know racial tension and my parents always told us that it was “much worse down south.” They used to travel by auto from Michigan to Florida and tell stories upon their return about towns along the way and how blacks were mistreated. It seemed as though they were talking about a different country than the “America” I knew. This movie moved me to tears when I saw not only the struggle those women fought day after day at their jobs, but their personal struggles in their lives and homes. I am still thinking about it. The characterization was so brilliant! I especially enjoyed the individuality – something going on with each and every character. No one was left out. I pondered the concept that the ring really was a stolen item and the maid was guilty of taking it – but the fact that the others were now willing to “talk” was more so because of the inhumane treatment of the arrested maid than the crime.

    When all was said and done – you truly hated those who deserved to be hated and loved those who deserved to be loved. Wonderful movie and worth getting up early on Sunday morning to take advantage of a 10:00 AM showing and a $4.25 ticket! Quite an awakening for all and women in particular. The 60’s truly were a time of change. I feel this movie will make a lot of people see life a lot differently. I hope that there is a little “Skeeter” in all of us now.

  9. @Olga — your bus story would make a FANTASTIC short story. Just sayin’.

    @Maryilyn — you’ve cut right to the heart of the writer’s gold in this story: we hate the bad guys and empathize with the good guys… and all characters have a backstory, a world-view, and a path. Good on you for noticing the bottom-line that non-writers may not notice that they’re noticing. Very cool. L.

  10. Read the book because of this website, Larry. LOVED IT. Thanks.

    I couldn’t get to the movie until yesterday. I took my wife, who had not read the book. It was great to see a movie where you know what’s coming but the person you’re with doesn’t. **SPOILER** She literally gasped, covered her mouth, then started laughing hysterically when she realized what was in Hilly’s pie. There were numerous scenes like that, but the pie scene was priceless.

    We’re from The South and old enough to remember these times. Both the book and movie give a good portrayal of the period. I agree that things were worse in a lot of places, but it definitely took me back to that time in a realistic way.

  11. I thought the film, like the book, was quite good but not brilliant. As social commentary, it did a great job of letting younger people know something about the situation in the South before they were born. Of course, it was way too tame. The film gradually introduced but didn’t sharpen the background of terror and hatred . With a primary focus on a victory over one horrible society lady, the plot morphed readily into a chick-flick. Skeeter was, again, a cute but not a deeply developed person. Yes, all the actors were good, especially the black cast but the pivotal moment when they threw off their fear and helped Skeeter is improbable: maybe today, not then. (My friend, a lawyer, who was there at just that time, said that her hair was falling out she was so frightened.) The film’s photography, which sets the mood, was almost always dollhouse bright. But,overcoming evil is the backbone of many a good story, so the movie worked pretty well..

  12. Cindy a.k.a. crichardwriter

    I loved the film! I read the book when it first came out, and I think this is one of the best adaptations of a book I have seen in awhile. Everyone in the packed theater where I saw the film literally clapped when the film was over, as if they were all watching a live show. That to me said it all. While I initally thought the book didn’t address the real fear and hatred of the time period, I have since stepped back and realized that there were just as many experiences within that time period as there were people – and that there could have been people just like the characters in this story who experienced subtler forms of racism. Every work set in a certain time period should not be tasked with describing peoples’ preconceived notions of what they should see, but authors should tell the story they need to tell based on their own characters and their lives – and Kathryn did this beautifully.

  13. Linda Wilson

    Larry, please let me know if you received my email about The Help. I signed up with Outlook to send it and can’t tell if it made it. Thanks, lastpg@hotmail.com

  14. Linda Wilson

    I listened to the audio version of The Help and from page one it became one of a short list of my all-time favorites. The actresses did a superb job. I thought the author got the “lingo” just right with just the right funny sayings and accents; made me think she’s up there with Mark Twain as a brilliant linguist. I was glad I knew the story before seeing the movie, as with any movie, they couldn’t include everything that was in the book. I thought the movie was excellent. We went to a matinee; almost all the people there were senior citizens so it was interesting to hear their reactions, raw and uproarious, especially when the actress who played Minnie rolled those huge eyes. I don’t remember laughing so much in any recent movie and of course being touched at the same time by the poignancy of the story. I think the story struck home for folks who lived through the Civil Rights era, however, my 26 yer-old daughter loved the audio book and told me I had to listen to it. So I’m guessing it reaches all ages. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about how the author captured readers with her brilliant characterization and learned a lot from the article you wrote about characterization. I’ve added it to my writing “Bible,” bought your book, Story Engineering, and also Bait and Switch on my Kindle. I’ve only just found your website and find it chock full of what I need to know now! Thank you for sharing your knowledge, it’s a terrific help. If you read The Week, there’s a blurb about mysteries in the latest issue. I quote, “Suspense, a new study has found, is irrelevant to our enjoyment of a story. In fact, say researchers at the U of California at San Diego, most people like stories more if they know in advance how they end–even with plots that hinge on a mystery or a twist. The researchers set up different versions of 12 short stories, written by authors such as Agatha Christie, Raymond Carver, and Anton Chekhov. One came with an introduction that spoiled the ending, one had a spoiler embedded in the middle; and a third appeared just as its author had written it. Readers who learned the endings of their stories up front reported liking them much more on a scale of one to 10 than did rdrs of the other two versions. Why? The pleasure readers get from a good story . . .has far more to do with the QUALITY OF THE WRITING AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT THAN A NAIL-BITING PLOT. (my caps/emphasis) Once a rdr knows how a story turns out . . . s/he ‘can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.'” There you have it–bolsters my understanding of what you’ve posted on your site!

  15. paula

    After reading the book a couple of times, studying what you’ve shared in your deconstruction, seeing the movie twice and, in general, admiring this without reservation, I do want to ask this question:
    On her website she acknowledges an editor she hired to help The Help. Could it be possible that with all this exceptional writing straight from the heart and from a sense of the atmosphere of her past that this editor wove together this exceptional structure? If Stockett did all of this by herself, as a first time writer, she is beyond genius level. I sit in absolute admiration every time I open the book.