MovieBob - IntermissionHelplessMovieBob - Intermission - RSS 2.0
To wit, while the film is set in Segregation-era Mississippi just in time for Medgar Evers to die offscreen and largely concerns the plight of black housemaids still living under a kind of unofficial slavery cleaning the homes and raising the babies of casually cruel upper middle class white housewives, its main character is a young white woman named "Skeeter" (Emma Stone).
Skeeter has just graduated from college, and unlike what we're given to understand of pretty much every other woman in her social circle she was actually there to learn, not just to land a husband. Yes, Skeeter is an educated, liberated woman who suddenly finds herself out of place in a community of garden partying marriage seekers, and she's also now more keenly aware (she went to college, after all!) of her friends and family's abysmal treatment of their black service people. This is the movie being as upfront as it can about exactly how it intends to flatter the egos of a significant percentage of its audience: "See, ladies? You're definitely not racist! Only uneducated, un-liberated gals representing broad caricatures of dated gender archetypes you vowed to never resemble can be racist!"
In any case, Skeeter has been trying to land a writing job with a big New York publisher ("Author Insert Character," much?) and her big inspiration is to pitch a book of anonymous "ugly truth" anecdotes from black maids concerning their real feelings about their white employers. Her drive to do so is inspired not so much by the actual churnings of the early Civil Rights movement but by her indignation at her ex-friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas-Howard) spearheading a "health law" requiring white homes to install separate bathrooms for "the (black) help." Hilly, you'll be unsurprised to learn, is a grown-up "Mean Girl" obsessed with domestic status symbols and embodying the "traditional housewife" ideal - a walking affront to Skeeter's woman-of-the-future outlook.
The central non-antagonistic relationship of the film is between Skeeter and Aibilene (Viola Davis) the first black maid willing to come forward and share her stories for the proposed book. The hype is true - Davis is damn good in this, but it's sort of depressing that she's always been a great actress and is only getting serious recognition now for playing (again, playing well) yet another in a long line of largely one-dimensional, impossibly noble black characters whose sole function is to inspire a white hero through their stoic suffering. Yes, she's good, but it's not her story, even though it kind of ought to be.
Thusly, The Help eventually settles in as something akin to a (superficially) "progressive" answer to the "conservative" blockbuster The Blind Side, which offered the pleasant fantasy (no, "based on a true story" does not exempt the film from being a fantasy) that upscale suburban Christian righteousness can turn Sandra Bullock into the Magical White Savior. Granted, Help doesn't contain anything quite as nauseatingly pandering as Bullock freezing a pair of black "gangsta" stereotypes in their track with the mere mention of her NRA membership (no, really - that's an actual scene in The Blind Side), but it's working the same basic angle with dime store Women's Studies 101 feminism subbing-in for religiosity. Same tune, different lyrics.