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Film / The Help

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You is kind,
you is smart,
you is important.
Aibileen to Mae Mobley

The year is 1962, the location Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) is a black woman who works as a maid to the white Leefolt family. In addition to having raised her own son, she has raised dozens of white children. After the death of her son two years ago, Aibileen takes some solace in raising Mae Mobley, an infant who's neglected by her mother, Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly). Aibileen can't do much about how Mae Mobley is treated, so she does whatever she can to give the young girl the love and attention Elizabeth won't provide.

Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is another black maid who is well-known for her excellent cooking and smart mouth. When she's fired yet again, she finds herself unable to find work, in part because of her reputation for talking back and also because her previous employer, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), spread lies about her being a thief. With an alcoholic husband and three children to feed, Minny literally can't afford to be unemployed. With no other options, Minny takes up a job working for Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Johnny (Mike Vogel), a couple that recently moved into the neighborhood and aren't aware of Minny's reputation.

Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) is a white women whose parents own a cotton farm. Though she has a college degree under her belt, she finds herself unable to get out from under her mother's thumb. Her mother keeps pestering her about finding a husband, but what Skeeter would really like to snag is a career in journalism. Based on the advice of a book publisher, Skeeter obtains a job as a domestic advice columnist in order to build up her portfolio and consider writing a nonfiction book about a specific topic.

The topic Skeeter eventually lands on is a charged one: what it's like to be a black maid working for white families. Despite the danger to themselves, Aibileen and Minny eventually come around to being interviewed by Skeeter. With each secret meeting, all three women run the risk of being found out and having their lives upended. Only time will tell if Skeeter's book of interviews will bring about change for the better or for the worse.

The Help is a 2011 period drama film based on the book of the same name by Kathryn Stockett. The movie was written and directed by Tate Taylor.

The Help contains examples of:

  • Abuse Discretion Shot: After Mae Mobley uses one of the commodes in Hilly's yard without understanding why this is inappropriate to do, her mother Elizabeth Leefolt becomes angry and spanks her. Before she is shown striking her, however, the camera cuts to Aibileen's disturbed reaction and the sound of Mae Mobley crying/screaming.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Skeeter. In the novel, she's described as being tall and gangly with sharp features and frizzy hair. The nickname "Skeeter" came from her brother, who, upon seeing her as newborn exclaimed: "It's not a baby, it's a skeeter!" Skeeter being slang for mosquito. It's highly doubtful that anyone would think the lovely Emma Stone resembled a mosquito.
    • Milder examples for Hilly and Elizabeth. In the book, Hilly is described as pudgy and out of shape in ill-fitting clothes, and Elizabeth is unattractively bony with extremely thin hair. The actresses in the film have none of these traits.
    • Even 3-year-old Mae Mobley got this treatment. The novel describes her as being a fairly unattractive child, chubby with thin hair and a bald spot. Movie Mae Mobley is a cute kid with barely more than the usual amount of baby fat. This actually works for the story since it makes her mother's disappointment over her child's weight all the more superficial and wrong.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The book showcases a wider variety of dynamics between the black maids and the white women they work for, with one maid speaking especially highly of her employer and describing the kindness and consideration the woman showed her during a family tragedy. In the film, Minny is the only one with a positive story about her employer.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: The scene surrounding Constantine's firing goes a bit further in the book than just her daughter barging into a party being hosted after being turned away by Skeeter's mother Charlotte when she comes to visit her mother. Constantine's daughter shows up all the same to surprise her mother, but in this version, she's a mixed-race young woman who can pass for white, and mingles with the club members Charlotte is hosting a party for. Charlotte is outraged that a black woman would have the audacity to pull a stunt like this, not to mention horrified at the thought of how the other club members would react if they found out the girl was actually black, thus leading to Constantine's firing. Considering how this would have added to the running time and likely would have needed quite a bit of exposition to explain the POV thoughts of everyone involved, it was changed to just Rachel, who is not-mixed race in the movie and presents as black, dropping in to visit her mother and back-talking Charlotte when Charlotte tells her to go out and come in through the back instead, and Charlotte reluctantly firing Constantine after being bullied into it by the club president.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • In the book, Skeeter is a segregationist who finds the thought of an interracial romance "horrific, disastrous"; in the movie, that moral ambiguity is gone.
    • Charlotte sends her son to Chicago to go bring Constantine back home after reluctantly firing her in the film in an attempt to make things right. It doesn't work because she's already died from a broken heart. In the book, she makes no such gesture, making the firing seemed especially mean-spirited.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Minny's husband is a minor case. He's abusive to Minny in both the book and the movie, but the book also has scenes in which he's gentler and even showing a certain amount of protectiveness towards Minny and the children. In the film, his only appearances are when he's hitting Minny.
    • Hilly also loses her (very few) good traits in the film. In the book, it's noted that despite how nasty she can be, she is a very good mother who treats her child well, especially when compared to her friend Elizabeth. The movie doesn't devote any time to showing that side of her (or really showing her interacting with her son at all).
  • Adapted Out: Lou Ann and her maid Louvenia are part of a minor but important subplot in the book. Both characters, as well as the plot points surrounding them, are cut from the film.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: When Hilly shows up at Skeeter's house to confront her about the book, she tells her that she's not only gonna ruin her reputation, but make the lives of the maids involved pure hell, Minny's especially, explicitly stating that she has "plans for her". Skeeter shoots back with one of these that gives Hilly a minor Villainous Breakdown.
    Skeeter: Careful, Hilly. That's Chapter 12. Don't give yourself away now.
    Hilly: (utterly seething) …That was NOT ME!
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Deconstructed when Aibleen brings up the heartlessness of such a mindset, given Skeeter's circle of friends treat injustice towards her community (namely her son's senseless hit-and-run) as a common happening.
    Aibleen: (chokingly) Come the anniversary of his death, I can't breathe. But to y'all, it's just another day of Bridge.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Phelan, as uptight and materialistic as she is, makes it clear that her daughter is her priority. So, when Hilly shows up at their house to antagonize her daughter, Mrs. Phelan tears her a new one and throws her out. Skeeter is rightfully amazed.
  • Cruel Mercy: While she manages to get Aibleen fired as Elizabeth's maid in retaliation for her part in Skeeter's book that condemns racism and doesn't seem to face any visible grand scale repercussions herself, Hilly is reduced to tears by Aibleen's "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Break the Haughty on the latter's way out, while Skeeter's book would eventually and gradually disintegrate Hilly's reputation in the passage of time. And that's without mentioning she has to live with the guilt of condemning Mobley Mae to a miserable childhood without the one person who loved her.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Hilly fires Minny because she thinks she used the indoor toilet, and then, after Minny gets her revenge, putting her mother into a nursing home for laughing at her I Ate WHAT?! moment.
  • Domestic Abuse: Elizabeth Leefolt's husband is very emotionally and verbally abusive to her, putting her down a lot.
  • Genki Girl: Celia Foote, oh so much. She is constantly running around, speaking fast, and generally is very energetic and happy about everything. However, she's not as flat a character as she seems.
  • How We Got Here: The film starts with Aibileen talking to Skeeter about what it was like to be a maid, and then it cuts back several days before that, explaining why Skeeter decided to write the book and how she got Aibileen to talk to her.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Hilly's horrified reaction to finding out one of the "ingredients" in Minny's pie.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The very last scene is a shot of Aibeleen taking a long walk as the credits roll.
  • Lighter and Softer: Most of the characters are portrayed more sympathetically than their book counterparts, particularly how Skeeter's mother fired Constantine.
  • Market-Based Title: The title of the book and the movie in Scandinavian countries is "Niceville." That's no translation of the Scandinavian title, an English title was used.
  • Mood Whiplash: The hilarious scene of Hilly's lawn covered in toilets includes an adorable bit with Mae Mobley using one of them. Which her mother then uses as an excuse to beat her.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In the movie, at the charity event, Hilly and Celia have this. Slightly drunk, Celia is just trying to congratulate Hilly for winning that chocolate pie at the auction. Hilly, believing Celia knows about the "Terrible Awful" and is mocking her, reacts viciously.
  • Oscar Bait: A historical drama film taking place in Civil Rights-era Mississippi, with an All-Star Cast to boot.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The incident that leads to Constantine being fired, whatever the changes to the characters in the process, is also this. The book version required a significant amount of exposition and took place across multiple points in time, which likely wouldn't have translated very well onscreen. The movie substituted a scene that kept a similar dynamic, but was much easier to set up and could be shown in a single scene.
    • Also, Minny telling her daughter the "rules" of being a maid on said daughter's first day of work (in order to set up Minny's interaction with Celia). In the book, this is accomplished by Minny remembering her own mother telling her those things, but this is another scene that would be difficult to show on film.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Hilly's final act of petty vindictiveness is firing Aibileen and trying to frame her for stealing silverware, since if Hilly can't have her arrested for helping Skeeter write the book, then she'll have her arrested for being a thief. For Aibileen, this is the last straw; she walks right up to Hilly, dresses her down over how she has to bully everyone around her just to feel good about herself, and tells her to her face that she's a godless woman who will never be happy. All in a Tranquil Fury that's enough to reduce Hilly to tears.
    Aibileen: Ain't you tired, Miss Hilly? Ain't you tired?
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Having enough of Hilly, Aibileen grabs hold of her and tells her to her face that she is a godless woman who will never know peace or happiness. Hilly is clearly shaken as Aibileen leaves.
  • Title Drop:
    • At the beginning of the film, a woman writes down the words "The Help" on a note pad, the name of the book that is also the title of the movie. It also serves as the film's title card.
    • Later at a party, Hilly assembles the maids and introduces them to her guests as "the help".


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You didn't eat just one, you had TWO slices!

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