Sunday, May 26, 2013

Courage sometimes skips a generation.

After years of working the same, sometimes degrading, often tedious job, I've always thought I should write a book about what I've gone through. I'll tell stories of being regularly humiliated and insulted. Write of being spoken to as if I'm an emotionless thing, not an actual person. Complicating everything? Never being able to say how I really feel, for fear of swift retribution by those in charge. But, there is one saving grace. Over the years, I've been able to summon strength and press on by turning to a few like-minded individuals who think, talk and for the most part, look like me.

Turns out, this story has already been told.

The Help isn't about teaching middle-school English in the inner city, but in a bizarro way, it could be. In fact, it could basically be about any group of hard-working individuals subjugated by not only their oppressive employers, but also by circumstance. But what makes this story (arguably?) matter more, is its one key variable: Race.

Definitely white, but only possibly middle class, I can't (and would never) speak to the struggles African Americans have gone through in this country. But, I'm not completely clueless. Day after day, year after year,  I attempt to educate kids, mostly African American (and Latino) about doing right in the face of overwhelming adversity. Sure, many of them are at a hopeless age where learning (and for the love of God, reading) is the last thing on their mind, but far too often, as I've repeatedly seen firsthand, they don't grow out of it. As the years pass, I've been able to get them to read less and less. More often than not, I use video clips and short films to successfully deliver concepts, disheartening as that may be.

The Help may be the perfect movie in that regard. A seriously important subject, (needlessly?) glossed up and simplified, it's Remember the Titans for the ladies. Meaning, this is the type of flick that takes something as utterly horrible as racism and makes it approachable and entertaining. This story has been told countless times, whether it has been about a basketball team in Texas, swimmers from Philly, or the aforementioned high-school football team in Virginia. While all those films have been testosterone-laced crowd pleasers, they, like The Help, are also overly simple and all too, for lack of a better term, black and white. Bad people are bad, good people are good. Apparently, subtlety and gray areas have no place in this sub genre of family-friendly important films.

For me, ultimately, this movie's light-hearted approach undermined its message and impact. Sure, it was entertaining and not as laborious (read: serious) as I thought it was going to be, but by the end I wasn't all that impressed (though I will award points for a startling lack of athletic equipment). My wife, though? Not only did she enjoy it, but she stayed awake the whole time, and we started it at eleven (parent time? that's one-hundred o'clock). I felt like Ed Harris on liquid oxygen...Call Guiness. All that said, I guess I'm calling this a win, even if it's a minor one.

Also considered a moderate victory, at best, is an appearance by the Yays and Boos. At least now everyone knows that this post is almost over.

  • Silly movie or not, anytime you can crank up Jackson by Johnny Cash, that's a Yay. Let's also cheer for Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice It's All Right. Great song.
  • Whoa. I had no idea that was Jessica Chastain. Ah, the wonders of the elevated breast.
  • So, Minny, as played by Octavia Spencer is kind of a badass. Not only can Minny talk some shit, but it turns out she can cook some shit, too. Some, tasty shit no less.
  • Oh, and girlfriend can bust a door down like the motherf--king Terminator. Locks ain't got shit on Minny.
  • Crisco, bitches. Cris. Co.
  • Johnny! That guy was a good dude. Not only does he help Minny pick up all her shit after she (wrongfully) panics, but he's so dreamy! Ah, those Southern Gentlemen.
  • Okay, even though most of the movie had zero impact on my shriveled, black heart, I actually got a bit choked up with the goodbye scene between Aibileen and Honey Boo Boo. Damn, that was some emotional stuff, right there.
  • And finally, as ridiculous and one-note as her character was, I actually enjoyed Sissy Spacek for a change. Usually I hate her scary face and wait for the pig's blood to drench her (no matter the role), but here it was different. I actually liked her revenge quite a bit. 
  • Man, I have passionately advocated that Emma Stone is indisputably hot on more than one occasion. About that...
  • Oh, and her name is Skeeter? Every time they said it I thought of Shirley MacLaine in Steel Magnolias. Though, to be fair, I'm always thinking about Shirley MacLaine in Steel Magnolias. I do declare!
  • There was a flashback sequence where the only thing worse than the atrocious dialogue the characters were spewing was the cringe-worthy makeup the characters were wearing. Goodness.
  • I love a good bitch. I do. But Bryce Dallas Howard's character was over the top. I mean, I'm pretty sure having to hold in your lady toots till you almost crap your pants would make you believe in racial equality, right? I'd forgive anybody for anything if I meant I could shit in peace. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's in the Constitution.
  • What the Hell was with Skeeter's boss at the newspaper? What a sassy douche.
  • And speaking of douchery, did anyone notice that Stuart's scenes were all too easy to predict? Seriously. You could set your watch by it. Stuart's first scene? Douche. Second scene? Not a douche. Third scene? Doooooooouche!
  • So, this really needed to be 146 minutes long? That's seven minutes longer than Fight Club.
  • Speaking of destroying something beautiful, while I liked what the movie represented, the unity in adversity and such, the whole thing came off like a made-for-TV movie. Like, I honestly expected commercial breaks.
One day, I hope to find myself at the grocery store, going about my business. I'll look up, and there will be some student of mine, reading this blog on their phone or tablet. And I'll smile to myself, because I'll have realized that my words, my story, has opened someone's eyes and changed their life forever.

And then I'll put back all the fresh meat and organic produce, 'cause you know...

I'm totally getting fired.


  1. I saw this a week after I had my son, still pretty hormonal, and I cried like a baby. Seriously, when Jessica Chastain's character walks away from the house crying because the other woman where laughing at her! THAT WAS SO MEAN! I really wanted Bryce Dallas Howard's character to get punched in the face.

    1. That's funny. I got choked up a little bit...but three posts from now I'll be discussing a movie that had me sobbing funeral-style just the other night. And I made my very pregnant wife watch it with me. Bad move.

      That scene you describe actually made me smile, it was so ridiculous! That level of pettiness reminded me of the 7th grade girls I deal with everyday. Soooo juvenile.

      BDH getting punched in the face? That would have elevated this to classic status. Easily.

    2. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the world is full of people who have never progressed past 7th grade.

  2. I really liked this movie a lot. I agree most of it was polished, very black and white, but the performances really made it amazing. Shame Bryce Dallas Howard didn't get more love for her work here I thought she was great.

    1. Really? Again, you surprise me. For whatever reason I thought you wouldn't have enjoyed this one. But, as I'm hearing (and seeing), it seems like more people than not liked this one. I'm surprised.

      BDH was a pretty solid, I guess. Though, for me, I found that her character was a bit over the top. She was the T-1000 of racist bitches.

  3. Excellent review! I didn't watch this movie -- when the reviews started coming out, I got the impression it would be, well, just as you described it. Overly slick and shallow. I enjoyed the novel tremendously, though -- I read and reviewed it several years ago.

    The thing about the book is that, in my opinion, it doesn't pretend to tell the whole story about racism and the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in the early 60s, not even close. It's told from the point of view of a young woman who is just starting to wake up to the extent of the bigotry and injustice around her. And it offers good storytelling and strong character development. It could be that some of this was lost in translation when it went to screen. :-)

    As an aside, my mom grew up, as a white kid, in Mississippi and was the same generation as "Skeeter." She was always painfully aware of racism, even as a small child -- she was a bit ahead of her time, in that many kids growing up in the 40s and 50s didn't even question it. Even so, toward the end of her life, she was still working to wrap her head around the enormity of it. Maybe that's part of the reason I related to the novel. Did any of that make sense? Don't know. I need more caffeine!

    1. First, thanks for that! Apparently, you should check this one out. Though, be warned, it's an epic.

      I imagine the book would be much, much better unsurprisingly. The ability to flesh out characters versus this one's a bitch and this one isn't is likely ideal. And as much as I like Emma Stone, maybe this role wasn't a great fit for her, perhaps? Not that I'd know anything about that...

      Half my family is from Boston, so my exposure to racism is kind of based there, which is a different version than the South. I didn't really get it, but I could sense that something wasn't right. Good for your mom for attempting to deal with it early, even though I imagine that to be quite the burden back then.

      Growing up in Hawai'i? It's a totally different vibe, but much more of a melting pot where just about anyone is accepted. Or maybe, it's just that the weather is so nice everyone's simply happier.

    2. In a mild climate like that, I suspect I'd have a much better attitude toward people. ;-) It would be the second best thing to a discovery of a cure for PMS.

  4. Very, very long, but well-acted to the point of it makes you wonder why we don't have more female-driven ensembles like this in today's world. Good review M.

    1. My God, Dan. What a friggin' epic this movie was. It's crazy.

      But, looking back, I guess it was solid far as this kind of thing goes. This movie made enough scratch to greenlight some more female ensembles, don't you think?

  5. I really don't say this about a lot of movies, but I detested The Help. For many reasons, most of which can be summed up by what you said:

    "Meaning, this is the type of flick that takes something as utterly horrible as racism and makes it approachable and entertaining."

    Yes, exactly.

    1. Damn, man. Did you ever review it? I gotta check that out. You definitely usually come across as pretty even-keeled. I'd be down for some Angry Alex Withrow.

      I think I would have hated the shit out of this one too, had I not watched it with my wife. She (and I swear, damn near every woman I've spoken to) really liked it, and that's kind of a rarity.


    2. Ha, well, I did write a review, but it's boring. Right around the 2012 Oscars, I wrote an essay called Why I Hate The Help. So maybe you'll dig that. Ha.