Monday, July 29, 2013

The Help

I watched The Help tonight.  It's a decent movie, I suppose.  I want to like it.  But for some reason, I can't really bring myself to.  I want to, because I can't quite verbalize what it is that's prickling me so much.  There's a lot of awkward "white person saves black people because they just can't do it on their own" stuff that everyone before me has mentioned; honestly I found the whole "Skeeter writing black women's stories for them" somewhat less creepy than the "Celia gives Minny the strength to leave her drunk, physically abusive husband by making her dinner one day" because hey, at least Skeeter gets called out on it once or twice, and the maids had a reason not to tell their stories.  It might not have stuck or sounded sincere, but the subject was brought up and the situation was at least believable.  Celia's deal was just.....weird.  But I've watched the movie a couple of times now to try and figure it out, and all I can say is there's something about it that leaves me feeling not-quite-satisfied.  Like it's doing something wrong, but I can't really put my finger on it.

But even the first time I watched the movie, there was one scene in particular that stuck at me.  I'd heard about the white-saviour stuff beforehand and so I came in expecting that, but this scene near the end kind of blindsided me.  The racist woman who was the main antagonist through the film, Hilly Holbrook, goes to main character Skeeter's house to rat her out to her mother about who wrote the book with all the maids' stories in it.  And she's drunk, despite never being seen drinking much at all in the rest of the film.  And she's got a cold sore on her lip, for the first time in the entire film.  And it's just a really cheap, tacky scene.  She's only drunk because it makes her look more pathetic and easily mocked.  She's only got the cold sore so Skeeter's mother can trash her appearance, telling her "no husband wants to come home and see that!" and "Get out of here, before we all get one of those disgusting things on our lips!"  And since cold sores are a type of herpes, I'm pretty sure it's meant in a slut-shaming way too.  It just felt like a really gross scene.  I mean, we've seen Hilly's behaviour throughout the rest of the film, we know how terrible she is.  And in like one of the very next scenes she gets called out again by Aibileen, only Aibileen uses her behaviour and shit to call her out.  Because that's what the problem is, Hilly is a racist turd who's mean and manipulative and generally terrible.  That's what she should be called out for, and it's so satisfying when she is called out for it.  The scene at Skeeter's just feels unnecessary and contrived, because instead of using her established character flaws they just make cheap cracks at her appearance.  This scene also happened in the book; I had to check, because it seemed so far out of left field.  The book's kind of worse, because it also points out how she's gotten fatter and that her shirt buttons are gaping open over her belly.  Seriously?  She's racist and mean and awful, and the best way the book/movie can think of to get at her and make her look bad is.....attack her appearance.  It is so vitally important to make her look ugly that it comes before the scene where she's rightfully told off for being a little shit and ends up in tears. Congratulations on making me defend the nasty racist asshole, The Help. I hope that's what you were going for there.

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