The Help: A Book to Movie Comparison

In this bustling world, I know I am not the only one with a long commute to and from work. A friend told me that she started listening to audiobooks to help make the time a little more bearable. I loved this idea, but I think audiobooks are a little overpriced. Luckily, a co-worker lent me her copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It was a book I had been wanting to pick up, so I jumped at the opportunity to be able to “read” it as well as possibly reduce my road rage. For a few weeks, I actually looked forward to getting into my car. The book was engaging and the voice actors fantastic.

For those who are unfamiliar with the novel/movie, I will give you the basics. The story follows three women in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960′s: Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minnie. Skeeter is a young woman, fresh out of college, who wants to be a writer. Aibileen is an aging black maid working for Elizabeth, Skeeter’s lifetime friend. Minnie is another maid, one who has trouble finding a job because of her sass-mouth. The story really begins when another one of Skeeter’s friends, Hilly, mentions separate bathrooms in households for the “colored help.” Skeeter questions how things are, and since she wants to write a book, she works with Aibileen, and later Minnie, to tell the maids’ side of the story about working for white families. That’s the bare bones storyline.

To review the book by itself, it is a heartwarming, frustrating, touching, sad story all at once. I highly recommend it to everyone. While fiction, it still tells us a piece of history. They not only talk about something rarely mentioned (their side of the story), but it also discusses their reactions to historical events that would take place during the time line, such as the assassination of President Kennedy. The characters are interestingly developed, and surprisingly there aren’t many one dimensional characters. Even Minnie, who’s character is somewhat limited to the “sassy black maid,” is put to the test and her true character shines through. The most memorable part of the story by far, is the relationship between Aibileen and Mae Mobley, Elizabeth’s daughter. It not only touches on the idea of black women raising the whites’ children, but also about neglected children getting some much needed love and attention. I am not shamed to admit I cried while listening to the book (not a good thing while driving sometimes).

I might also recommend the movie. It was good. Although, I feel it wasn’t great. And I really don’t think it deserves the rave reviews it seems to be receiving. It was much more one dimiensional, went for unnecessary punch lines (the same joke repeated over and over), and was no where on par with the novel. It was a cute movie, and a fun night out, but don’t go in expecting anything mind blowing. In fact, where I found the book inspiring, the movie seemed almost racist.

Before I begin my comparison, I want it to be known that I will be talking like I would if you had read the book, and maybe also seen the movie. I will be divulging character and plot details. So please, unless you have no intention of reading/seeing this, or you don’t care about anything being spoiled, then please read on. For those that might skim through these paragraphs, I will also include this:

I have three main issues with the movie version. 1) Characters were completely changed, including their morals/beliefs. 2) The pie joke was played up too much. 3) Racist stereotypes were put in the movie that I do not remember in the book. I think it would be easiest to go through each point separately.

Characters were completely changed. The most glaring one is Skeeter’s mother. In the novel, she is your typical old-fashioned southern woman. She plays a large role in preventing Skeeter from finding out what happens to her old maid, Constantine, who raised her. Constantine gave away her own daughter because she looked white, but while Skeeter was away at school, the daughter (Rachel) came back. Rachel pretended to be white at a party Skeeter’s mother was holding, which caused the mother to lose it, throw them out of the house, and fire Constantine. When confronted about this story by Skeeter, she rationalizes why she did it, further enveloping herself in racist remarks. In the movie, the mother’s character is completely different, the story of why Constantine was fired is skewed, and her relationship with Skeeter is changed. In a way, the mother is another strong woman figure who was a victim of the environment of Jackson, Mississippi. While this is heartening, the original story within the novel added a new depth to Skeeter, one of our main characters, and helps us picture what life was like here for one growing up in the changing times.

There were other small changes that were only slightly noticeable, such as the physical appearance of Hilly. She is a beautiful, slim woman, rather than the slightly pudgy one who uses her power over others to make her feel better about herself. Skeeter’s love interest is rarely in the movie and his character is so undeveloped it is hard to see him as a love interest at all. Celia Foote’s character was completely absorbed into a dumb blonde, rather than the naive, rural woman who doesn’t understand why it isn’t ok for her to sit at the same table as Minnie to eat.

The pie joke was overplayed. Once it came out, it was constantly being brought up. I am aware it is a main storyline in the novel, but it did not play as large of a role as the movie made it out to be. James had not read the book, and he left the theater saying he enjoyed the movie but thought it was one big poop joke. Is that what someone should take away from this kind of movie? It was mentioned way too many times to be considered funny by the end.

Racial stereotypes were present. “FRIED CHICKEN! MM-HMMM! I LOVE my fried chicken!” Minnie mentioned it, cooked it, or ate it at least three times in the movie (whenever she was cooking or talking about cooking). This is not the case in the novel. It bothered me. They were taking a character who in many ways might have been the “typical” sassy one, and over did it. What do you gain by adding this to the movie other than making a character stereotypical and comic relief? I like Minnie’s character in the novel. She was a hard woman, who had been through a lot and was dealing with what life gave her. Throughout the book she grows and learns, and I felt like that was missing in the movie, and not just because of the fried chicken. They also made the whole book (about what it was like to be black working for whites) Skeeter’s idea, when in the novel it was Trelor, Aibileen’s son. Wouldn’t that have been more empowering to keep in the movie?

Like I said previously, the movie is worth seeing, particularly if you haven’t read the book. The book is by far better. I understand that there need to be changes to get something onto the big screen, but the changes made here were unnecessary. It had nothing to do with time constraints and developing a story and characters in a short amount of time (if you consider over two hours short). All these changes had to do with comic relief and trying to play to the audience they think are going to come to the movie. What they didn’t consider was the audience that was going BECAUSE they had read the book. It was disappointing. Luckily, our movie theater also has a full service bar that allows you to take drinks into the movie, and I had received a free martini before the showing began.

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