On the surface, it’s a story about civil rights. But really, it’s one of friendship. The Help follows the story of two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, Miss Skeeter, an aspiring writer, and their friends and families down South in the 1960’s. The book is a bestseller, and rightfully so. And the movie, a hit.
Normally, when a phenomenal book is turned into a movie, it’s terrible. The director doesn’t do the characters justice. But here, director Tate Taylor gets it just right. The movie does an excellent job of portraying the deep love between Minny and Aibileen. Not to mention, Minny’s attitude. But Taylor even managed to make Emma Stone (as Skeeter) ugly, which is a key point in the story. In the book, it’s sometimes hard to recognize the appreciation the maids and their employers have for each other. But when we see it onscreen — facial expressions and all — we realize there’s something there. Though they’re unwilling to admit it, these white women couldn’t live without their maids.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few changes in the movie. For instance, some of the plot points are a little out of order. Others are just a tad off from what actually happens in the book. But I recognize that when you’re making a complicated story a movie, there are things that need to be altered. For instance, the woman Minny works for — Celia Foote — miscarries her 4th child. In the novel, Minny doesn’t know Celia was ever pregnant, so the miscarriage is a complete shock. It remains shocking onscreen too, but in the movie, Celia tells Minny she’s pregnant when she hires her, undeniably stealing away from that surprise at the end.
Then again, some of the changes made in the movie version of The Help work. Like Sissy Spacek, who plays Hilly Holbrook’s mother. As readers/viewers, we all know Hilly (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is the least likeable, most devilish character. But her mother knows it too. In the novel, her mother plays a minor role — one that shows how cruel Hilly can be. But in the movie, there’s more focus on her. She’s funny and aware of her daughter’s cruelty. By showing disdain for her own daughter, we’re left feeling even more hateful of Hilly.
Overall, the changes the movie makes are minor. Like the book, I still cried at the end. I still finished it feeling like I needed to hang out with my girlfriends. And I still left understanding more about the life of the help than I ever had. And after all, isn’t that the point?