A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie doesn't sugarcoat the difficulties of being African American in Jim Crow Mississippi, but there are positive messages about how the '60s were a revolutionary time for civil rights, even as so many had to die to achieve it. Through Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny's partnership, the idea that a member of the "elite" class can find common ground with disenfranchised African-American servants is critical to the movie, even if it was improbable in real life.
Positive Role Models
Skeeter starts her book project because she wants to be published, but as she gets to know Aibileen and Minny, she realizes that her book is an important exercise in getting disenfranchised voices heard. Aibileen and Minny bravely, carefully buck the Southern system of Jim Crow to share their stories with Skeeter. Aibileen teaches the little girl in her care to be self-confident and loving. Skeeter suffers the consequences of her actions but realizes it was for the best. Skeeter's mom has a change of heart about the way she treated their family housekeeper. Celia sees Minny as an equal and actually befriends her, and Minny helps save Celia from misery.
Violence & Scariness
Minny is domestically abused; it happens off-camera, but viewers do see her with bruises on her face. The assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers is a key moment in the film; President Kennedy's assassination is also discussed. In a disturbing scene, a character suffers a miscarriage and is shown sitting in a small pool of blood. A police officer is rough with an African-American woman he arrests (and her friends), even hitting her in the head with his night stick. Parents sensitive to physical discipline should know that a parent spanks her child for a minor "mistake." A mother recounts how her son was basically left for dead by his white employers; another woman explains how she was threatened at gun point. The maids seem genuinely fearful of white men, whom they know could kill them without any repercussions.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
For the first half of the movie, there's virtually no sexuality (except for the occasional presence of Celia, who wears form-fitting outfits and has considerable cleavage). In the second half, Skeeter goes on a date that turns into her first serious relationship, although she and her boyfriend only kiss and hold hands. A woman's history of multiple miscarriages is discussed; she and her husband are depicted as playful and flirty. Other married couples embrace and dance at a holiday gala.
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The word "s--t" is of prominent importance to the storyline and is said several times throughout the movie. Other language includes "damn," "hell," "jackass," "a--hole," "goddamn," "oh my God," and the "N" word, which is used once, in a casual, matter-of-fact way: "Some n---er just got shot, now y'all got to get off the bus." Hilly often pronounces the words "negro" and "negra" in a way that sounds like "niggra." Other insults used toward the help include "thievin'," "sass-mouthin'," and "no-good."
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Products & Purchases
Coca-Cola is shown a couple of times, as is a Piggly Wiggly supermarket.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Accurately for the '60s setting, almost everyone in the movie (even a pregnant character) smokes. One character orders drink after drink on a blind date. A woman gets drunk at a party and accidentally rips her social rival's sleeve; she then throws up on her adversary's party gown.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Help is an emotionally intense adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's best-selling civil rights-era novel. It isn't likely to appeal to young kids, but it's a historically relevant drama that mature tweens and teens can see with their parents. The film not only teaches about segregation and the importance of racial equality, but it also shows how oppressed people have important stories to tell. The language is tame for a PG-13 movie except for the word "s--t," which is used several times, and one casual use of the "N" word by a bus driver. African Americans are referred to as "negro," and a grown-up restaurant worker is called "boy" by white patrons. There's no graphic violence, but a character is obviously physically abused by her husband, and a woman has a miscarriage, leaving her in a pool of her blood. Reflecting the '60s setting, almost everyone (even a pregnant woman) smokes cigarettes and drinks. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
All of the performances are remarkable in this drama. On the surface, The Help looks like yet another civil rights story told from the perspective of an open-minded white character who acts as the catalyst for change. But director Tate Taylor is careful not to put an overwhelming spotlight on Skeeter at the expense of Aibileen (who narrates the drama) or Minny. Stone continues to solidify her stellar reputation with her understated performance as the ambitious but slightly misfit young writer. But the real revelations are Davis, who's such a nuanced actress that she can elicit a storm of emotions with her soul-piercing stare, and relative newcomer Spencer, who's not only playing the opinionated Minny but is her inspiration (she's a close friend of both the author and director). Both actresses are deserving of an Academy Award nominations.
There's not a flat note in the production, although special mention must be made of scene-stealers Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain. Howard plays Hilly Holbrook, one of the meanest, most heartless villains this side of Cruella DeVil. She's the Junior League set's queen bee and is so racist that she wants a bill passed forcing white homes to have a separate bathroom for their black servants. Chastain, who wowed critics in The Tree of Life, lets loose as Minny's kind and charismatic employer, who's desperate for a friend. The Help is one of those perfect movies for parents and mature tweens/teens to see together. It sparks discussion, teaches a history lesson, and makes everyone think about how we treat others. And yes, don't forget the tissues. There will be weeping.
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