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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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Gregory VII: The 10th century and the first half of the 11th were dark days for the Church, partly because the papacy was the pawn of various Roman families. In 1049, things began to change when Pope Leo IX, a reformer, was elected. He brought a young monk named Hildebrand to Rome as his counselor and special representative on important missions. He was to become Gregory VII. 
<p>Three evils plagued the Church then: simony (the buying and selling of sacred offices and things), the unlawful marriage of the clergy and lay investiture (kings and nobles controlling the appointment of Church officials). To all of these Hildebrand directed his reformer’s attention, first as counselor to the popes and later (1073-1085) as pope himself. </p><p>Gregory’s papal letters stress the role of bishop of Rome as the vicar of Christ and the visible center of unity in the Church. He is well known for his long dispute with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over who should control the selection of bishops and abbots. </p><p>Gregory fiercely resisted any attack on the liberty of the Church. For this he suffered and finally died in exile. He said, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile.” Thirty years later the Church finally won its struggle against lay investiture.</p> American Catholic Blog In Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was taken to God. Christ opened the path to us. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Savior.

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