The Help: The Book vs.The Movie (Spoilers? Probably.)

15 Aug

The Book

I spent 20 minutes sobbing clinging to my paperback copy of The Help, as if the New York Times bestseller could understand my outpouring of emotion.  Kathryn Stockett’s The Help is that kind of book—the kind of book I want to start re-reading, even though I just finished it, the kind of book that has such lively characters that I want to know them in real life, and the kind of book that makes me think long after I closed the tear-stained pages.

The Help is one of the best books I have ever read.  In fact, it is my favorite literary fiction, and I feel funny saying that because I feel a deep passion for many of the books I read (and music to which I listen), but this book goes beyond my normal realm of “liked it,” past “loved it,” past my “favorite books shelf,” and straight into “life-changing, best books I’ve ever read.”   The Help will find its home amongst my most personal books.

Stockett’s characters are well-developed (even the minor ones)—Skeeter Phelan, the white writer who gathers the stories of the maids, Aibileen, her friend’s black domestic and Aibileen’s friend, Minny, who find maids willing to tell their anonymous stories to Skeeter.  Each of these three characters tells the story of The Help in alternating chapters, adding her distinctive flavor and voice to the story while moving the plot forward.  This story doesn’t shy away from the South’s racial tension in the early 60’s, nor is it an easy read.  Some moments made me laugh out loud, and other times I cuddled with the tissue box, blowing my nose in a most unladylike fashion (Skeeter’s mom would have been appalled.)

Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, and their friends will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I will revisit their story often, so I don’t forget what is so beautifully written, and then repeated by Kathryn Stockett in the essay she wrote at the close of the book, “Wasn’t that the point of this book? For women to realize, We are just two people.  Not that much separates us.  Not nearly as much as I’d thought.”  This book taught me that the barriers (or “prisons”) we make between “us” and “them” are truly ours to tear down.  And I’m not talking about just racial barriers, but any barrier that keeps “us” in the way of loving “them.”  Like me, you’ll see the line of separation isn’t much, not nearly as much as you once thought.

The Movie

I stuffed a wad of tissues into the purse because after reading the book, I thought the movie would make me cry.  I didn’t use my tissues.  Not even once.  While many people will tell you that “The Help” is the movie of the year, an instant classic, “better than the book” (Gasp!  That *never* happens!), and so forth, let me assure you that I will not be one of those people.

While I adored the book, I thought the movie was just OK.  Not riveting, not a must-see, and not even a great adaptation.

The characters so well-drawn in the book were mere caricatures of Southern women—the white trash chick (Celia), the snotty “mean” girl (Hilly), the world-changer (Skeeter), the docile maid (Aibileen), the loud-mouthed maid (Minny), the reformed meanie (Skeeter’s mother) instead of the characters I have come to know and love (or dislike, in the case of Hilly).  Instead of a messy ending, the movie was tied up in a bright blue bow.

In the book, the stark contrast between the white ladies and their black domestics was apparent, especially against the backdrop of the social unrest and civil rights movement of the early 60′s.  For example, early in the movie Skeeter sits at the same table as Aibileen to talk to the maid about her book idea.  This did not and would not have happened in the book.  Weirder still, later in the movie Minny scolds Celia for sitting at the table with her because “that’s not how white women act.”  The movie treats the writing of the maids’ book as scandalous, but the reality is that such a book could have had deadly consequences for the maids and Skeeter.  Both white and black people were killed in the South for speaking out against segregation and for civil rights. 

Also, the repercussions from the publication of the “Help” book were not felt in the movie.  In the novel, maids were wrongly fired because they were *suspected* of being involved in the project!  And don’t even get me started on the overuse of the chocolate pie…!  The movie was subtle in the places it should have been loud and loud in the places where it should have been subtle.  The complexity of the plot, the relationships, and the underlying element–we are ALL not that different–was lost.

However, the actresses did a great job with what they had.  Bryce Dallas Howard was a perfectly evil Hilly Holbrook, and every ounce the back-stabbing socialite.  Still, Hilly is so mean in the movie, she doesn’t come across as a loving mother or a good friend (I mean, she did hook Skeeter up with her cousin-in-law).  I did enjoy Viola Davis as Aibileen, Octavia Spencer as Minny, and especially appreciated Jessica Chastain’s depiction of Celia Foote.  The cast was lovely; the script was what needed work.  I mean, it didn’t even include my favorite line (and author Kathryn Stockett’s as well) from the book.  What the what?!

I’m going to see the movie with my Bible study this weekend, so I’ll see if I have a different opinion with a little distance between my reading of the book and seeing of the movie.  I really, really wanted to love the movie…and I just didn’t.

Celia (Jessica Chastain) and her new BFF Minny (Octavia Spencer)

And the winner is…The Book.

For another opinion of the movie, check out Jenny B. Jones post, “Yes, I’m Talking About THE HELP, too.”  She LOVED the movie and explains why!

 

What do you think?  Did you like the book or the movie better?  Or did you like them for different reasons? Are books always better than movies?  Or are movies better than books?

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20 Responses to “The Help: The Book vs.The Movie (Spoilers? Probably.)”

  1. Kathy Schneider August 16, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    I’ve been hearing such great things about both the book and the movie. I think I’m going to pick up the book this week since that seems to be the better option.

  2. Joy August 18, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Nice. I agree with you. I did not love the movie at all. I was most disappointed with the way the movie totally ignored Constantine’s storyline with her daughter Lullabelle. In the book, Lulabelle looked nearly white and could pass for white. But in the movie she has a brown complexion. And i totally.. I mean totally did not like how they portrayed Mrs. Phelan as being sympathetic at the end. The movie totally overlooks the tension between Skeeter and her mother (except for the part with Medgar Evers). This was a big “no no” in my eyes. Mrs. Phelan should not have been redeemed at the end of the movie. On last thing… the movie made it seem as if Skeeter was a world changer from the beginning and did not need to change her own ways of thinking….. In the book Skeeter struggles with racism herself. There were times while reading the book that I did not like Skeeter, but the movie portrays her as a savior and totally likable all the time. READ THE BOOK!

  3. Amy August 18, 2011 at 1:01 am #

    Kathy, you can get THE HELP for $8 on Amazon.com with the pretty bird cover or the movie cover. I’d go for the pretty birds.

    Joy, I totally agree with you! I hated what they did with Mrs. Phelan. Her character is much more amusing in the book. The tension between Skeeter and her mom is part of what made Skeeter so interesting–and showed how she had to hide what she was doing from everyone. I didn’t get the idea that it “ruined” her in the movie, but it sure did in the book. I really, really like Skeeter, so the movie portrayal was disappointing. I think Skeeter isn’t so “pretty” either. That’s Hollywood, I guess.

    I did think the scene when Mrs. Phelan dismisses Constantine was well-done in the movie–the part of her actual dismissal. This is the only part where I teared up. However, I thought of Constantine as slightly older than Aibileen (not Cicely Tyson old). In the movie her daughter is not “high yellow” and is named “Rachel.” I thought it was much more amusing in the book when Lulabelle passed for white and was asked to join DAR.

    Did you think the pie thing was WAY overdone? And I hated that Celia cooked the whole meal in the movie! How it worked out with Celia and Minny in the book was so much more touching.

  4. Joy August 18, 2011 at 1:34 am #

    Thanks for your reply! About Skeeter, I liked her overall but I think her character would have been much more believable if the movie portrayed her as a white woman who eventhough is liberal in her thinking, still struggles with racism. I grew to like Skeeter in the book and I think I liked it more that way because it showed her as also a white woman from the South. That’s just me though.

    The movie’s treatment of Constantine and Lulabelle was overall disappointing. The scene was good, but why change the fact that she was “high yellow”? I think they skirted around the issue of whites dislike of blacks who could pass for white. I was also waiting for the spit in the face.

    The pie was mentioned too much, lol youre right. Celia, I loved her character but I also did not like how she cooked a meal at the end. SHE NEVER LEARNS HOW TO COOK. lol :-) it was too cheesy

  5. Sheri August 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    I completely agree with this review and the comments saying that the book is better. It is SO much better! The characters were so rich and endearing in the book and I felt like I was enveloped in their world. In the movie, I felt no connection to the characters since they lacked that richness and depth. It also seemed like the movie was rushed along and pieces of the book were stuck in there, and not in the order they had orginally occurred. I also completely agree about Cecila cooking Minny a meal at the end-my mouth literally dropped open when that happened! Why couldn’t they have made her inept at cooking like in the book? I thought that was a lot more amusing and endearing too.

  6. Cindy McDonald August 19, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    I agree with you and I havent even SEEN the movie! lol…I just cannot imagine a movie better than the book that I eagerly devoured in 3 days. I feel like I have been on a vibrant,educational journey into my ancestors and their shameful/wonderful/immortal relationships with their “help”. Now I feel abandon, unsatisfied, and lonely for my “Aibiee” and “Skeeter”” and “Milly”, and all the characters who will remain alive and well to me forever. Yes, this is on my “Reread”. Like Milly and Aibilene’s cooking I do NOT want to skip a single drop or lick,(ummm except I will pass on the pie lol) and I may have. So to see a face to connect with the names in the book was all I needed for another read thru. I visited the Movie website tonight and accomplished all but the little children, and only after the reread will I see the movie.

  7. Joy August 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    Yes Sheri, the movie lacked so much richness. It seemed as if it desired to be more funny than serious at times. I wanted Abileen to have more voice because in my opinion, her voice was stronger in the book than it was in the movie. Viola Davis still did a wonderful job. And yes, Sheri, things were rushed along much too fast!

  8. Amy August 19, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    Tomorrow’s the big day when I shall see the movie again with my small group Bible study (my mom and I just couldn’t wait.)

    I was so annoyed by the fact so many scenes were out of sync. It really messed with my mind. I do tend to be a purist, so naturally this movie really threw me for a loop.

  9. Julien August 21, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    What is your favorite line from the book?

  10. Smokey August 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    If you want to see a side by side comparison of the two check out this site. There are a whole boat load of differences listed.

    http://thatwasnotinthebook.com/diff/the_help_book_2009_vs_the_help_movie_2011

  11. forest (@52martinis) October 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    hands down, the book! i just read it a few weeks before watching the movie (just minutes ago) and was so let down between the difference between the two that I had to go google the topic (and came across this blog!) :) the movie was so polished up for a hollywood biggie that it lost so much of what was dramatic and interesting about the book. and i have to say, this wasn’t a life changing book for me. I thought the book was very good, but even that disappointed me in parts. but the movie was such a formula tearjerker pile of junk, i’m particularly annoyed by all the hoo ha it’s getting. they took a serious topic, and good book and turned it into a couple of hours of formulaic fluff. but, jmho of course. :)

  12. forest (@52martinis) October 29, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    and just one more thought….the only reason i was emotionally involved in the characters in the movie was because I had the back story from the book. otherwise, I would have been way less likely to give a crap. (as harsh as that sounds, but true)

  13. Dreams December 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    I hope that people will read the book as the characters in the book are so well defined. The movie did no justice to the characters nor the writer herself.

    I felt that a lot of emotional parts were literally CHOPPED OFF!

    What ever happened to the part where the young guy who comes to cut grass in Abileen’s lawn, he was blinded because he used white bathroom.

    Seriously, it pissed me off how Skeeter’s mother got to redeem herself in at the end, where in the book she does not get to do that.

    I was dying for the part where Stuart was going to propose Skeeter, but that part never appeared. I wanted to see the look on Skeeter’s face when he pulled out the ring (as per book)

    I wish Help the movie was never made – totally killed the characters!

  14. Dreams December 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    The Movie had a lot of cliche.
    I wonder how Katheryn Stockett feels about the movie!!

    I am begging all those who haven’t read the book, please read it. The book deserves a big round of a applause and the movie deserves a “boo hoo” :(

  15. Dreams December 18, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    Omg….Katheryn loved the movie lol

  16. beautypulselondon January 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    I actually listened to the audio book! 18 hours of exqusite writing! It was actually narrated by the four main characterrs and was just riveting to listen to. I LOVED the book so much that I couldn’t wait to watch the film….and I was so disappointed :-(

    I know it a big ask to be faithful to the book…but I feel the essence was just missing…the tension, the joys, the pain…the hope. I hated the additions to the script (what on earth happened to Skeeter’s mother???), I just guess I had high expectations….

  17. Lisa February 10, 2012 at 6:26 am #

    I’m late in reading the book and joining this forum. But I agree completely with Amy Sondova. As a 54 year old light-skinned black woman who’s mother grew up in the South I was almost astonished at how well Stockett captured the feeling that was guarded so well by the Black domestics in regard to their employers. I also thought it very brave of Stockett to expose, and explain, her own complicity, as explained in the postscript at the end of the book.

    I needed to read the book before I saw the film. I knew from past experience that what Amy wrote would most likely be true; ‘The complexity of the plot, the relationships, and the underlying element–we are ALL not that different–was lost.’

    I have resigned myself to the ‘Hollywood Ending’. To not make the audience too uncomfortable. This is why I feel it is so important to read a bestseller BEFORE it hits the screen.

    Having said all of this I also am a huge film lover. To watch great actresses and actors deliver their art is a pleasure indeed. Viola Davis is my most favorite actress. I am so happy to see her in such a highly acclaimed story which will expose her work to a large audience. Same too for Octavia Spencer. And I am a major fan of Bryce Dallas Howard. Jessica Chastain brings a wonderful dimension to her character. I felt she did a great deal of justice to book Celia. Their performances saved the film for me from being a deep disappointment. But I give very little praise to the producers of this film for allowing such a poignant story be watered down so much.

    And, oh, by the way; I’ve seen many an author buckle under and come out praising the film adaptations of their books even when they first disagree with the screenplay. I think the companies put a great deal of pressure on authors. The Hollywood machinery is very powerful and convincing. Too bad in the end.

  18. Amy February 10, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    First of all, I feel bad for not responding to y’all sooner. But I’m so glad to see there are people out there who agree with me about book vs. movie. As my mom says, the book is ALWAYS better than the movie. (Go, Mom!)

    I was HOPING the movie would be better than it was, though women who haven’t read the book really like it (except for this one woman who told me the movie was better than the book when she was coming out of the theater when I was on my way in.)

    Jessica Chastain was the perfect Celia. I just don’t like that Celia learned to cook. The plot line in the book was much better, though I still don’t understand the weird naked man. I see how it further the plot (Minnie could learn to trust Celia), but I don’t understand why there was a weird naked man back there in the first place. Very strange.

    LISA, you’re the first black woman I’ve “met” who has read THE HELP, so I am so glad that you chimed in to this discussion. I was wondering how black women felt about the book. I could see myself in Skeeter and in Minnie/Aibileen (for reasons not related to skin color), but I really wondered how black women felt about the book. Thank you so much for offering your opinion! :)

    Now if we could all get together and be in a book club… :)

  19. Lisa February 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Thank you for the ‘shout out’ Amy! It took a bit of surfing to find your blog but I am very happy I did.
    As for the ‘naked man’ it was my one of favorite parts in the book in regard to the relationship of Minnie and Celia. It touched on so many points; that two women can bond together regardless of race to vanquish a common enemy, that Celia wasn’t the blank, weak little mouse of a woman that just hid in a room most days. Celia showed more outer guts and courage than any of the Caucasian characters in the book to that point. Hilly went after the weak, Evelyn bullied a child and the Sketter character slowly was waking up from her coddled coma during most of the story. If Minnie had beaten that man she would have been in jail in a heartbeat. Minnie was correct that Celia could have stayed in the house. I as a reader, as a woman and as a Black woman, needed to see Celia act with that amount of courage. Her character allowed me to allow myself to have faith in the future; that it doesn’t always have to be small steps that break down barriers…sometimes it can take shape in the swift swing of an iron rod. And throughout the book the Caucasian women spoke several times of the threat of Black men against them. Here Stockett created a scenario that had the antagonist be a Caucasian man. I felt she was making a direct point that real creeps come in any color! This was, for me, a most important theme in the book; look past the color, people are people, good, bad and indifferent. Brilliant writing.

  20. Donna August 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    Very late to the party here. Just read the book and then watched the movie. Agree with almost everyone here that there is just no comparison. The book was sooo much better. I was disappointed in the casting of Skeeter. Emma Stone was not my idea of Skeeter at all. I thought Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain were great as Abileen and Celia. I don’t know, I was also a bit disappointed in Octavia Spencer. I mean, she was good, but maybe I was expecting so much since she won all the awards. I also thought Bryce Howard was good as Hilly and Sissy Spacek was great as Missus Walter . .made more of the part than was in the book. I am ok that they made Mrs Phelan sympathetic at the end of the movie. It was a typical Hollywood move. BTW: Allison Janney would have made a far better Skeeter about 25 yrs ago than Emma Stone was.

    The DVD cover says the film is BASED on the book and I would say that was accurate. So many differences, and the book is just far better in the end.

    When I read “Eat my shit” in the book, I could NOT stop laughing. Poor Mae Mobley . .I felt the worst for her at the end of the book being left with a mother like that.

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