Friday, September 16, 2011

Then get going. Before this civil rights thing blows over

It's difficult to come up with something to say about a book that's been so widely discussed. What's there to add about Kathryn Stockett's The Help that hasn't already been said over and over again? Not much, but that isn't going to stop me. What I will do instead of just a review is discussing the movie versus the book.

I wasn't planning on seeing the movie before reading the book. But I'm awful at planning so it worked out that I did. Boyfriend and I wanted to see a movie but couldn't decide between The Help, Our Idiot Brother, and Crazy, Stupid, Love* so we threw them into a randomizer and The Help won. I thought about suggesting we see something else, so I could read the book first, but I figured this might be my chance to see the movie before it's out of the theaters since we don't go to the movies all that often. Because I'm lazy. Also because movie theaters and the malls around here are where the Long Island stereotypes congregate and there's only so much Axe body spray I can inhale in any given month.

First up, for those that haven't read the book or seen the movie, I really liked them both and would absolutely recommend them. It is a touching story about a disgusting time. I want to put this first up because the rest of this post will probably be all kinds of spoiler-y and you may want to skip over it.

*Spoilers! Dead ahead!*
 For the most part, the movie and book are the same. Obviously, right? The story is the same and most of the characters are the same. But the devil's in the details and for the most part the book's details are better.

Normally I'll like a book better if I've read the book first. Then I already have my idea of what it should look like and the movie either matches that, exceeds it (not usual because I'm very vain and assume what I've come up with is the best) or else fails to live up to it (again, see vain). If I see the movie first, I read the book picturing what the movie showed me, so there's less opportunity to come up with my own version and more likely I'll go with the vision that the director had. So I was surprised to find that I liked the book better than the movie because the movie seemed afraid of becoming too ambiguous so it stayed very safe, very black & white (pun! although I can't tell if the pun is in bad taste. You know, moreso than puns usually are).

Ebert has a great line in his review about how the story is about the African-American maids but it's "equally the story of how they empowered a young white woman to write a best-seller about them". You get that feeling with the movie that Skeeter/Emma Stone is really the main character. Now I love Emma Stone, she's a big part of the reason I wanted to see the movie in the first place, but I went into the movie assuming the maids were the main characters, in particular Aibileen and Minny. I pleasantly surprised when I picked up the book and Skeeter doesn't even show up for awhile. You get to hear the events from first Aibileen's and then Minny's point of view. Skeeter is there too and I like her and I like hearing her voice but it's Aibileen and Minny I want to hear from.

I think they made Hilly worse in the movie than the in book. She's a bitch in both, don't get me wrong, but it was Elizabeth that I couldn't stand. Maybe because you spend more time with her, since Aibileen works for her. Or maybe because I'd heard/seen Hilly be so awful that I expected her to be taken further than she was. She behaved exactly as I expected. Or maybe it's because Elizabeth just couldn't form her own ideas and didn't care for her kids as anything other than an accessory, like her silver set. And they do show some kindness in Hilly. Never towards the maids but she at least starts the book having some real affection for Skeeter, and certainly towards her children. You don't see any other side to Hilly in the movie so she ends up being this one-dimensional villain.

I liked Skeeter's mom Charlotte in the movie better, in part because she's played by Allison Janney who is all kinds of wonderful, and also because she's both more sympathetic and more powerful (sympowerful?) in the movie. Especially when Hilly comes over to tell on Skeeter for the book she wrote. In both she says a lot of the same things to Hilly: comments on her hair being a mess, on the cold score that's popped up on her lip, etc. But in the book, she hasn't read Help and doesn't seem to have any idea of the book or even that Skeeter and Hilly aren't friends anymore. In the movie however, she knows everything. Again the lines are mostly the same in both book and movie, but in the movie she's this powerful Southern matriarch, slyly telling off Hilly while staying all prim and proper.
*Spoilers defeated. You're safe now*

*Both Boyfriend and I wanted to see all of these movies. When there's a movie one of us wants to see and the other doesn't** there's more negotiating beyond just pick a movie out of a hat. Or we give up and go see it with other people.
**Like Moneyball. Seriously, baseball AND math? You're killing me, Smalls!***
***Yes I know that's a baseball reference. Baseball movie reference anyway. Did you know "a can of corn" is also a baseball term? although a real, non-movie one. I swear some of these sayings are just to mess with people. Also I have a lot of asides stemming off of other asides and this is just getting ridiculous. Lucky for you, you can skip these. If you talk to me in person this is pretty much how the conversation goes.

Title quote from location 3087

Stockett, Kathyrn. The Help. Berkley, 2010. Kindle edition