read. watch. the help.

A lot of life in the past weeks means a lot of recommendations for you ahead. But I’ll start with my review of a great book turned film – a secret I’ve been sitting on for months.

Sometime the last week in March
It must have been the constant buzz about the book that motivated me to read it. I borrowed my mother’s copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett and found myself engrossed after only a few short pages. The bright and warm cover welcomed me in, but the story took a dark turn as if a cloud hovered over the history that hit too close to home. I remained engrossed throughout the story, but along the way I felt enraged, disgusted, grateful, joyful, and a host of other emotions. I turned page after page with anticipation of the redemption I knew had to come.  It kept me from defenestrating the book at moments of ultimate frustration both with circumstances and characters.

March 28, about 10pm
I was in the throes of a moral dilemma with Skeeter, the youngest protagonist, when I received an invitation to a special screening of the not-yet-released film version. The screening was the next night! Hesitant to let the visual of a movie invade my imagination, I asked for a few extra hours before making my final decisions about the movie.

March 29, about 1am
As it turned out, pulling a late night to finish such a great read wasn’t exactly a major sacrifice.

March 29, around 3:45pm
I fought unexpected traffic and faced doubts of not making it to the theater in time after all my reading.

March 29, around 5:15pm
What should have been a 20-minute drive took an hour and a half. But somehow, I made it (with plenty of time to sign I would not divulge any information about the movie prior to its release, hence this retroactive post).

March 29, around 9pm
I completed the questionnaire about the film, wished I could sit in on the smaller focus group that remained, and thanked my friend Abbey profusely for inviting me to be her plus one (Thanks again, Abbey!)

So that was my adventure of reading and watching The Help. My immediate responses to the film were recorded on a survey.  But with time to digest, I have found I have more to say.  Since only a few short hours separated the final sentence of the book and the opening scene of the movie, my reactions to both are permanently intertwined.

I won’t spoil any plot lines or twists for you.  But if you want to read or watch without expectations and my opinions planted in your mind, stop reading now.

What the novel did for me…

  • Told a story so powerful I was forced to face the reality of a familiar and not-so-distant past.
  • Introduced me to characters – some I hated and some I loved.
  • Kept me on the edge of my seat and of raw emotion with a near perfect balance of mystery, drama, romance, thrill, and humor.
  • Reminded me how relational all women are – a beautiful mark of the Creator of us all.
  • Left me wondering how we can hurt each other so badly and holding out great hope for our future generations. We still have so far to go.

What the movie did for me…

  • Showed me that I had something in common with each character. Though I knew from reading how I related, I was fascinated to see it. At least one item in every home reminded me of my grandparents’ belongings. I sat at Minny’s table, drank from Elizabeth’s glasses, and ate over Celia’s tablecloth.
  • Gave voice to the beautiful dialogue.
  • Brightened the era for me. In my mind, the colors of life in that era were muted, like the colors of faded family photographs.  These vivid colors helped me understand the inviting cover of the book, I thought were mismatched.

As with most novels turned films, the development and growth of the characters felt abbreviated. Thankfully, I carried that development with me easily into the movie. However, that was not the greatest contrast between novel and film. As I read, I truly understood that Skeeter was an outlier in her society. Not only was she tall, with uncontrollably frizzy hair, and fiercely independent, but she courageously found a way to give voice to the voiceless and instigated change. She was not the norm. As I watched the film, I felt the opposite. I found myself watching through the lens of today. Skeeter seemed more the norm; Hilly and the League seemed the outliers. For me, this brightened and lightened the situation, watering down the risk these women took and the courage required of them.

I am well aware that we carry our own experience and personality into stories such as these.  Therefore, many will disagree.  Overall, the film was very well-acted and directed. I believe it coped with the limitation of this genre of story-telling well. I am grateful that many who will never read the book may see the movie and know the story. I hope they will grasp the great themes and find the courage of these characters in themselves.

Finally, I cannot close without sharing my favorite aspect of the movie screening. I glanced around; every seat in the large theater was occupied. Most attendees were women.  Some were black. Some were white. Some were old. Some were young. As we laughed together and cried collectively, I could not help but think of the history in that room.  Whose mother was like Aibileen? Whose grandmother was Skeeter? Whose aunt lived like Celia? Whose saw their sister in Minny? In that moment, though I know how very far we have to go, I felt the author’s intention had been realized. “Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.”

For that reason alone, go see the movie.For many reasons, read the book.


One response to “read. watch. the help.

  • Emily

    I can’t wait to see the movie! I finished the book on Monday and I miss the characters already. I think this book will go on the shelf next to To Kill a Mockingbird or Black Like Me. Makes me miss all the women in my framily!


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