I went to an afternoon showing of The Help with my daughter (who was clueless) and my friend Susie (who has her own stories to tell). The movie would be a disappointment to fans of the book, but it’s visually very lovely. It telescoped many events, dropped some complicated incidents, and softened (for me) the emotional impact of the human tragedy. It has some fantastic performances from lesser-known actors, both black and white, and a breakthrough serious role for Emma Stone as Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan.
My complaints? Skeeter is too beautiful for her role as a young woman whose mother despairs of her ever getting married and her curls are managed by modern mousse. The queen bee, Hilly Holbrook, as played by Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter) is too beautiful and svelte, compared to the description in the novel. Constantine, Skeeter’s nursemaid is too old, but wonderfully acted by Cicely Tyson. The “white trash” bride Celia Foote is not vulgar enough in the fancy ballroom scene. And Elaine Stein, the Jewish New York editor, is too smooth-faced and attractive (I imagined her being more masculine and angular).
Furthermore, Constantine’s daughter, Lulabelle, is too dark, in a confusing switch from the novel, in which she was considered “too high yellow,” (meaning, looking white) to stay in the South, so Constantine sent her up North in Chicago to be raised in an orphanage. She grew up empowered by the Black Panther movement, returns to visit her mother, and brazenly walks into a meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution at the Phelan plantation as if she’s a member or guest. Her mother is abruptly fired after 29 years of employment and having raised Skeeter.
The messiness of politics and political campaigns was dropped.
But, most crucial was the decision to end the movie before the novel does.
Spoiler alert: The viewer does not know that Skeeter’s mother does die of cancer, so she’s released to move to New York to take the job at Harper & Row offered by Elaine Stein. And she arranges for Aibileen Clark to take over her column on housekeeping tips, a racial breakthrough in publishing. The novel is more hopeful, but the film leaves the viewer in suspense about their future.