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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Help

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Though unlikely to be popular with the more senior members of the Junior League of Jackson, Miss., the warm, deftly acted drama "The Help" (Disney) seems destined to win hearts in many other quarters.

That's because writer-director Tate Taylor's adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel uses vivid characterizations to bring the Civil Rights-era struggle for human dignity alive.

A harsh scatological plot development, however, marks the film as off-limits for younger viewers—who might otherwise benefit from its generally uplifting story—and will even be off-putting for many adults.

Fresh from her studies at Ole Miss, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) returns home to Jackson in the early 1960s with her head full of rebellious notions. Instead of finding herself a husband, as her good-hearted but traditionally minded mother, Charlotte (Allison Janney), would prefer, Skeeter wants to be a journalist.

As for the wildly racist thinking that prevails among her privileged peers—personified most viciously by Junior League leader Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard)—Skeeter has no patience for it. Neglected by Charlotte, Skeeter was nurtured instead by her family's black housemaid, Constantine (Cicely Tyson in a brief but wonderful performance), for whom Skeeter retains a deep affection.

Securing a job as the household hints columnist for a local paper, Skeeter turns to another servant, Aibileen (Viola Davis), for advice on the subject. But Aibileen's help with cleaning tips soon becomes a pretext for Skeeter's secret and potentially dangerous scheme to write a book documenting the lives of Jackson's African-American domestics.

Though initially reluctant to cooperate, Aibileen decides to take the risk based on a sermon she hears in church. Eventually Skeeter also manages to win the confidence of Aibileen's sassy best friend Minnie (Octavia Spencer), whose anecdotes include the off-color tale of how she took revenge on Hilly for firing her.

Since Hilly is leading a crusade to establish separate bathrooms for the city's maids, so they won't spread disease to the white population by using their employers' facilities, Minnie's manner of wreaking vengeance is apt. But, as portrayed in a fairly lengthy scene, and as repeatedly referred back to, the incident is also profoundly distasteful.

The dynamic created by Skeeter's perkiness, Aibileen's mournful warmth and Minnie's irrepressible sauciness keeps the pace unflagging while the proceedings are further enriched by supporting performances from Jessica Chastain as a kooky but kindly social outcast and Sissy Spacek as Hilly's Alzheimer's-beset, but still spirited mom.

Dramatizing the stupidity of prejudice and the expansive possibilities open to those who overcome it, "The Help" is a richly humanistic tale mature viewers will welcome.

The film contains a graphic scatological theme, brief violence and medical gore, veiled sexual references, a half-dozen uses each of profanity and crude language and a few racial slurs. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Oliver Plunkett: The name of today's saint is especially familiar to the Irish and the English—and with good reason. The English martyred Oliver Plunkett for defending the faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution. 
<p>Born in County Meath in 1629, he studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1654. After some years of teaching and service to the poor of Rome he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. Four years later, in 1673, a new wave of anti-Catholic persecution began, forcing Archbishop Plunkett to do his pastoral work in secrecy and disguise and to live in hiding. Meanwhile, many of his priests were sent into exile; schools were closed; Church services had to be held in secret and convents and seminaries were suppressed. As archbishop, he was viewed as ultimately responsible for any rebellion or political activity among his parishioners. 
</p><p>Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. After deliberating for 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in July 1681. 
</p><p>Pope Paul VI canonized Oliver Plunkett in 1975.</p> American Catholic Blog God had a plan even before he created Adam and Eve. God is never caught off guard. He knows all. He sees all. And he is working all things together for the good of his children. Nothing can stop his plan of mercy and love.

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