I am always fearful of adaptations. I never watch a movie before first reading the novel, and The Help was no exception.
Kathryn Sockett's novel was the first of many I read at the beginning of this summer, and no novel since then has compared. I fell in love with the characters instantly and despite its 400+ page length, I could have followed the story forever.
When I heard Hollywood was making an adaptation I was nervous because it's rare they ever do the original any justice.
Some may disagree, but I thought the movie was equal to, if not better than, the novel. Let me start by giving my opinion on the minimal alterations made to the film that could be seen as slight downgrades from the book:
While the acting was superb, I think the movie downplayed some important attributes of some critical characters. For example, the ruthless, brazen, never-holds-anything-back, Minnie, who convicts the Terrible Awful wasn't as terrifying as she was in the novel. Octavia Spencer played Minnie and was phenomenal; she was funny, compassionate and accurately demonstrated the many layers of Minnie. However, I think it was the writing for the film (not the acting) that left out some of shameless defiance in Minnie's actions that were ever-present and blatantly obvious in the novel.
Aibileen, played by Viola Davis (who by the way reminded me of an Oprah Winfrey-cousin, perhaps?), was level-headed and soft-spoken just like I imagined her in the book. However, she was the narrator of the film; the book had no single narrator but was rather dictated by chapters defined by the name of that character's perspective. I think that's what I liked about the novel so much-- getting three completely different views, three completely different sequence of events.
Skeeter, the third of three narrators in the book, was played by Emma Stone. Again, the acting was fantastic, but I think they made her appear too put-together for the film. The novel made her seem much more disheveled and criticized her unruly hair multiple times, while Stone's hair was nothing less than enviable the entire two and a half hours of film. ;)
Skeeter's mother was entirely too forgivable. The novel made her seem cold and disapproving of her daughter - qualities so established that even sympathy from her terminal Cancer could not erase. Mrs. Phelan was one-hundred percent agreeable for ninety percent of the movie. Similarly, Stuart, Skeeter's unexpected romance, was also too forgivable, and played a much less significant role in the film than in the novel (not that it made much of a difference.)
With that being said, the positives very much so outweigh the negatives in this film...
It was long, but the novel was longer. The acting was award-worthy. The scenery and costumes for a 1964 Mississippi setting were impeccable.
I've been debating whether or not I want to make this comparison or not all day, and I think I am going to take the risk and say it...
The Help tendered entertainment similar to that of Steel Magnolias.
For those of you that know me, Steel Magnolias is my all-time favorite movie ever, ever, ever. Even thinking about putting a movie in its same category is border-line unthinkable.
But I'll say it, and I'll stick by it. Because the sisterly bond between three unlikely women was undeniably reminiscent of the strong friendship between Ousier, M'Lynn and Clairee (Spencer's portrayal of Minnie was cunningly and starkly humorous, with a mean edge and yet a soft spot an audience can't help but fall in love with - Ousier's role exactly.) Southern values were in check, and then again strongly challenged. We were faced with issues of romance, illness, friendships and trust.
"Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." -Truvy Jones
And laughter most certainly followed (a ton of) tears in the film version of The Help.
I think the reason I suggest the movie might be slightly better than the novel -which I'll admit is beyond rare- is because it invoked more intense emotions. It was easier to connect with the colored Maid characters because the film was more concentrated on their story instead of Skeeter's personal life. I barely needed a tissue during my beach read of the novel, but the sleeves of my yellow sweatshirt were thoroughly mascara stained by the end of the film viewing.
And there you have it, a 5 out of 5 stars in the Maggie Y movie review.
So if you haven't yet, please do yourself a favor and go see The Help. (But only if you've already read the book.)