The Help...

In case you hadn't noticed, I've been lying low lately. I made a vow to stop baking and making frozen desserts until I cleared out some of the backlog in my freezer. You see, those root beer float ice pops and the Aztec "hot" chocolate ice cream from last month are still maintaining a strong presence in my freezer, and I figure it's time for me to eat my way though some of my inventory before I go adding to it. I've been hanging out with friends a few times a week, but nothing really blog-worthy.

Today, however, I journeyed up to the suburbs to do movie and lunch with Lauren. Sadly, the number of these get-togethers has declined precipitously since Lauren moved to Evanston; back when she lived 15 minutes away we used to catch the cheapest, earliest movie of the day and have breakfast beforehand a few times a month. Now we're lucky to see each other every few months, but we're still making the effort. 

At Lauren's suggestion, we saw The Help, based on the popular novel of the same name. To me, it seemed like an obvious feel-good bid for Oscar nominations, but there weren't a lot of promising options at the theater, so I decided to go and try to keep an open mind. 

As a college student, I spent a significant amount of time studying social movements of the 1960s, and the Civil Rights Movement was often given particular emphasis at Wash U because it happens to be the repository for the archival footage that went into the making of the seminal documentary series, Eyes on the Prize. With so much primary source material on hand, my professors were eager to make the best use of it possible. Hence, I was probably better informed about the Civil Rights Movement than the average viewer of The Help, and I couldn't help but be distracted by its lack of realism. Difficult as the maids' lives are as depicted on film, I think the movie underestimates the repercussions that their civil rights activities would have had on their employment and their lives in general. 

Furthermore, while the Civil Rights Movement was assisted by a number of well-meaning whites, I felt like the story minimized the agency of the African-American community in building their own movement. Instead, Skeeter (played with characteristically quirky aplomb by Emma Stone) comes across a bit overly heroic and unselfish. I think the audience shouldn't lose sight of the fact that her original aim in telling the story of the South's black maids is to tap an undiscovered literary resource to create a literary career for herself, not necessarily because she is interested in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, her curiosity about Jim Crow and institutionalized racism comes later. 
Still, the movie does have some extremely entertaining moments, from a pie with a disgusting secret ingredient to a prank that involves the delivery of an entire yard-full of toilets to the local bully. I tend to like my films on the depressing side, but The Help offered its share of delightful comedic moments instead. It was also rife with fantastic female performances, my favorite of which came from the relentlessly sassy maid, Minny Jackson, played by Octavia Spencer. Of all the actresses who made solid contributions to the film, I'd like to see her rewarded come Oscar season.

I do think The Help was on-balance, entertaining and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with a friend. I take issue with it from a historical perspective, but that probably doesn't matter to the average movie-goer, so I say, go ahead and check it out if you're in the market for female-friendly theater fare this summer.

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