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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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Bernard of Clairvaux: Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days. 
<p>In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light. </p><p>His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know. </p><p>Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. </p><p>The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. </p><p>Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.</p> American Catholic Blog One of the things that we need to remember is that we’re preaching Jesus, not the institutional Church. It’s easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations of the institution and forget that we are saved not by the Church but by the person of Jesus or the Church as the body of Christ.

 
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