Saw “The Help” last night…

I don’t get to the actual movie theater anymore. Even though I’ve largely cut off the firehose flow of entertainment into my house, between Netflix and the DVDs I own (most recent acquisition: a Blu-Ray of “True Grit”), I’ve got more movies to watch than I really have time for — without paying those ridiculous ticket and concession prices.

But I have seen five movies this summer, which is unusual for me. Here they are, in order:

  1. Thor
  2. X-Men: First Class
  3. Green Lantern
  4. Captain America
  5. The Help

Oops, did I give you whiplash there? Did you think you knew where you were going and then, WANG!, a sudden change of direction.

Well, I went to the first four with my son, because of our shared interests in comic books, and the last one was my wife’s idea. We went to see it for our anniversary last night.

I went thinking, “This is my anniversary present, because this is a chick flick,” but I enjoyed it. And not just because of the views of that social outcast “Celia.” It was just a well-told, real-life story about people. Of course, I guess a lot of things would look like that after the other four movies I saw before it. (Best of the bunch? “Captain America.” But I expected that. The one that most exceeded my expectations? “Thor.”)

Something that struck me at the end, though: During the credits, I got up and looked around, and noticed two things. Most of the audience was female, which I had expected. And most of the audience was white. I found myself wanting to interview the audience, to get their impressions, and ask how it spoke to them and their lives. Did it match their memories? How do they think life has changed since then, and how stay the same?

More than that, I wanted to ask black folks who weren’t there: Why not? I can guess some reasons why not, but I’d probably be off-base. Then again, this audience, while numerous, may not have been representative. This was out at Harbison. Demographics would have been different somewhere else. Probably.

But I didn’t bother anybody with questions. It was our anniversary.

Last anniversary, we went to a bourbon tasting at the Capital City Club. That is to say, we went out to dinner at the club for our anniversary, and before that there was this bourbon tasting that was free to members (I think I’m remembering that right), so I managed to talk my wife into attending. It was fascinating. The speaker was a great-grandon of Jim Beam, and a very colorful and knowledgeable guy.

This year, we decided on a more low-key celebration. And “The Help” served the purpose well. It was particularly meaningful because the central character has the same last name as my wife’s maiden name. OK, that’s just a coincidence, of no interest to you, but we found it interesting… sort of like the family in “Driving Miss Daisy” being named “Werthan.”

20 thoughts on “Saw “The Help” last night…

  1. `Kathryn Fenner

    I saw it at Columbia Mall, the early matinee, and the audience was 50/50 black and white and 100% older female–like, other than me, old enough to have been the characters in the film–well, I could have been the toddler Mae Mobley. They all talked back to the screen and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

  2. Brad

    OK, that’s good to hear. Guess I just saw it in a white enclave.

    And if that’s how you relate to it, I guess I should say, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important!”

  3. Elliott, South Carolina

    I read the book and kept telling everyone how amazed I was that the movie got everything right. I grew up in South Carolina in the 1950’s, and this was exactly how everyone acted. I thought the author had to be a southerner about my age. I was surprised when I saw her picture. I read an interview she gave, and she said the information came from stories her Mississippi grandparents told her. I hope that I can be that accurate when I tell my grandchildren stories of growing up in SC.

  4. Burl Burlingame

    And it’s a big summer for Jessica Chastain, who played Celia. She also plays the mom in “Tree of Life” and next month is the young version of Helen Mirran in “The Debt.”

  5. Brad

    Burl, let me know when you post your reactions. That will remind me to post an anecdote of my own I forgot to share here.

    As for Jessica Chastain — in those other movies, does she dress the way she did in “The Help”? Because that seems key to me…

  6. Brad

    And Elliott — I, too, was surprised that this was written by a kid.

    Sort of reminds me of what Martin Cruz Smith pulled off with “Gorky Park.” I read that and thought, wow, what an incredibly realistic view of everyday life in the USSR, showing the gritty details of what it’s like to be a cop in Moscow… and then I learned he had never been there. I was stunned.

    Nothing a writer does is more impressive to me than convincingly writing about a time and place that evokes it completely, and places you there as definitely as though you’d walked through some time and space portal. And when the author has never been to that time and place? Well, that’s magic.

    Oh, and I’m not speaking of people who “invent” worlds the way Tolkien and Heinlein did. I’m talking about people who recreate real times and places so that you can see and hear and smell and taste and feel them. That’s what impresses, and intimidates, me. I don’t think I could recreate, to my own satisfaction a time and place with which I was intimately familiar in my own life. I’d worry so much about getting some detail wrong — an expression we didn’t say then, or some everyday technology (for instance, exactly how did we make a long distance call in 1965? Did it still involve an operator, or were we using 1 and an area code yet? I know it varied according to geography for awhile…) — that it freezes me up from trying. And yeah, you can research things like that — but I would worry about getting something wrong that I didn’t KNOW I had to look up or run by somebody, and my editors missing it.

    Anyway, people who can do that stuff impress me.

  7. Brad

    Speaking, of timing… Burl, I enjoyed your review, but one question: Was the movie set in a different time from the book (which I haven’t read)? Because the events of the movie seem to occur in 1963, based on the Medgar Evers assassination, etc.

  8. Burl Burlingame

    The film is very true to the book. Some characters were telescoped down to streamline the story. Speaking of alternate realities, did you ever read “Black Ocean”?

  9. Burl Burlingame

    I wondered about the products on the shelves at the brief supermarket scene — where do they find this stuff? I’m sure the stuff in the hero positions was whipped up by Props.

  10. `Kathryn Fenner

    @Brad– Jessica Chastain had to really “pork up” for the role; according to reports, she “bravely” undertook to gain TWENTY POUNDS. I mean, the shame of it!

  11. Brad

    Well, she certainly managed to put it on in all the right places.

    I was thinking that if I, like Burl, undertook to review the movie, I would have summarized her character thusly: “A generous soul in a generous body.”

  12. `Kathryn Fenner

    Bryce Dallas Howard (“Hilly”) and Viola Davis also put on some weight–none of the white women looked overly padded to me–just kind of normal?

  13. Dianne Chinnes


    Anna Camp, “the young lady from South Carolina” in “The Help” grew up in Columbia and attended Meadowfield and Dreher. She was one of our outstanding Junior Achievement Students and was a South Carolina Business Hall of Fame Student Ambassador. You will also be interested in knowing she was a guest star on the TV show you like…“Mad Men.”

    Many of your readers will remember her father, Tom Camp. He was a local banker and very active in Columbia community. He was Chairman of Junior Achievement board, etc. Anna moved to New York after she graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Tom and his wife now live in Rock Hill. He is President and CEO, South Carolina Bank and Trust of the Piedmont.

    Anna, like your daughter, Nell, is one of the Junior Achievement students I will never forget. They are both Super Achievers.

  14. Brad Warthen Post author

    Hey, y’all! It’s 10 years later (almost), and just the other night I started to watch “The Help” again since it was available on, I think, Netflix.

    Or rather, I just meant to watch a few minutes, because it was late.

    And I ended up stopping earlier than I’d meant to, because right at the beginning you have the young woman asking one of the maids something along the lines of, “How does it feel raising all these white kids while your own children are left at home without you?”

    This, of course, made the woman who was the subject of the interview uncomfortable. And because of that, it made ME uncomfortable, and I stopped watching.

    I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I’ve never liked stuff that made me cringe, and lately it’s started bothering me more than it used to. And I’m not talking just about stuff just like this — I’ve gotten to where I can’t bear to look at or read any kind of awkward social situation. (And not just that. Sometimes it’s that I can’t stand to watch a character making a bad personal choice, or something like that.) Doesn’t matter that it’s fictional. It just bothers me too much to subject myself to it unnecessarily. Real life, maybe you have to — but not as entertainment.

    I’ve been thinking about writing about it, but haven’t decided how to approach it.

    Also, there’s another thing at work in this instance. My whole newspaper career, I avoided sending any reporter out to ask the “How does it feel?” question. I hate it, and I think it’s almost always inappropriate. (And of course, TV people seem to LOVE it.) I got sent out to do that once or twice as a reporter, and swore to myself I’d never send anyone else to do it.

    I’m not alone in this. Whenever someone writing for movies or TV writes a scene meant to communicate how horrible journalists are, they resort to having journalists ask someone dealing with personal tragedy, “How does this make you feel?”

    So obviously, other people hate it, too…

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