I spent 20 minutes sobbing clinging to my paperback copy of The Help, as if the New York Times bestseller could understand my outpouring of emotion. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help is that kind of book—the kind of book I want to start re-reading, even though I just finished it, the kind of book that has such lively characters that I want to know them in real life, and the kind of book that makes me think long after I closed the tear-stained pages.
The Help is one of the best books I have ever read. In fact, it is my favorite literary fiction, and I feel funny saying that because I feel a deep passion for many of the books I read (and music to which I listen), but this book goes beyond my normal realm of “liked it,” past “loved it,” past my “favorite books shelf,” and straight into “life-changing, best books I’ve ever read.” The Help will find its home amongst my most personal books.
Stockett’s characters are well-developed (even the minor ones)—Skeeter Phelan, the white writer who gathers the stories of the maids, Aibileen, her friend’s black domestic and Aibileen’s friend, Minny, who find maids willing to tell their anonymous stories to Skeeter. Each of these three characters tells the story of The Help in alternating chapters, adding her distinctive flavor and voice to the story while moving the plot forward. This story doesn’t shy away from the South’s racial tension in the early 60’s, nor is it an easy read. Some moments made me laugh out loud, and other times I cuddled with the tissue box, blowing my nose in a most unladylike fashion (Skeeter’s mom would have been appalled.)
Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, and their friends will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I will revisit their story often, so I don’t forget what is so beautifully written, and then repeated by Kathryn Stockett in the essay she wrote at the close of the book, “Wasn’t that the point of this book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.” This book taught me that the barriers (or “prisons”) we make between “us” and “them” are truly ours to tear down. And I’m not talking about just racial barriers, but any barrier that keeps “us” in the way of loving “them.” Like me, you’ll see the line of separation isn’t much, not nearly as much as you once thought.
I stuffed a wad of tissues into the purse because after reading the book, I thought the movie would make me cry. I didn’t use my tissues. Not even once. While many people will tell you that “The Help” is the movie of the year, an instant classic, “better than the book” (Gasp! That *never* happens!), and so forth, let me assure you that I will not be one of those people.
While I adored the book, I thought the movie was just OK. Not riveting, not a must-see, and not even a great adaptation.
The characters so well-drawn in the book were mere caricatures of Southern women—the white trash chick (Celia), the snotty “mean” girl (Hilly), the world-changer (Skeeter), the docile maid (Aibileen), the loud-mouthed maid (Minny), the reformed meanie (Skeeter’s mother) instead of the characters I have come to know and love (or dislike, in the case of Hilly). Instead of a messy ending, the movie was tied up in a bright blue bow.
In the book, the stark contrast between the white ladies and their black domestics was apparent, especially against the backdrop of the social unrest and civil rights movement of the early 60’s. For example, early in the movie Skeeter sits at the same table as Aibileen to talk to the maid about her book idea. This did not and would not have happened in the book. Weirder still, later in the movie Minny scolds Celia for sitting at the table with her because “that’s not how white women act.” The movie treats the writing of the maids’ book as scandalous, but the reality is that such a book could have had deadly consequences for the maids and Skeeter. Both white and black people were killed in the South for speaking out against segregation and for civil rights.
Also, the repercussions from the publication of the “Help” book were not felt in the movie. In the novel, maids were wrongly fired because they were *suspected* of being involved in the project! And don’t even get me started on the overuse of the chocolate pie…! The movie was subtle in the places it should have been loud and loud in the places where it should have been subtle. The complexity of the plot, the relationships, and the underlying element–we are ALL not that different–was lost.
However, the actresses did a great job with what they had. Bryce Dallas Howard was a perfectly evil Hilly Holbrook, and every ounce the back-stabbing socialite. Still, Hilly is so mean in the movie, she doesn’t come across as a loving mother or a good friend (I mean, she did hook Skeeter up with her cousin-in-law). I did enjoy Viola Davis as Aibileen, Octavia Spencer as Minny, and especially appreciated Jessica Chastain’s depiction of Celia Foote. The cast was lovely; the script was what needed work. I mean, it didn’t even include my favorite line (and author Kathryn Stockett’s as well) from the book. What the what?!
I’m going to see the movie with my Bible study this weekend, so I’ll see if I have a different opinion with a little distance between my reading of the book and seeing of the movie. I really, really wanted to love the movie…and I just didn’t.
And the winner is…The Book.
For another opinion of the movie, check out Jenny B. Jones post, “Yes, I’m Talking About THE HELP, too.” She LOVED the movie and explains why!
What do you think? Did you like the book or the movie better? Or did you like them for different reasons? Are books always better than movies? Or are movies better than books?