The Help


Film (with rating): The Help (PG-13)

 

Studio: DreamWorks Studios

 

Summary: This film, based on the best-selling novel by
Kathryn Stockett, is about very different women in 1960s Mississippi who build
an unlikely friendship when one of them attempts to write a book detailing the
African-American maids’ point of view on the white families they work for.

 

Review: Sometimes, beloved books made into big-screen
Hollywood flicks often fall flat simply because the film world cannot become as
multi-textured and amazing as the written word. But in the case of “The
Help,” director Tate Taylor did Stockett justice, big time. The film is
just as powerful and rich as is the novel. In fact, it is a bit richer, thanks
to the amazing performances by the leading ladies.

The confident and spunky
Emma Stone rocks the role of Skeeter, the college grad determined to uncover
the story of these African-American maids who have endured and witnessed much
in the homes of their employers. Then there are Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.
Their much-heralded talent is not overstated in the least, and both are highly
deserving of the Academy Award nods they’ve been given. As is Jessica Chastain,
the young wife with a secret. Her Oscar nomination was also spot-on.

These
actors brought the rich and real characters birthed by Stockett to life in a
way that fans of the novel will celebrate; even those who are not familiar with
the book will appreciate the phenomenal casting and acting. Davis and Spencer
steal the show, and it’s thanks to their deep characters and engaging storyline
that we are drawn into the heart of this film, which has been
nominated for the best picture Oscar.

Here’s a nifty bit of trivia: Stockett
was rejected 60 (60!!!) times during the course of writing “The Help.”
Her novel was literally tossed away by dozens upon dozens of powerhouses in the
publishing world, until an agent named Susan Ramer,  No. 61, took a chance on her.

But even before that, Stockett
took a chance on herself, escaping for an afternoon to a motel so she could
write in peace, carving out bits of time to further develop her characters. She
never gave up. Her soul and determination leak beautifully into each of her
characters. And for once, Hollywood didn’t blot it dry.

 

Extra highlight: “In their Own Words: A Tribute to the
Maids of Mississippi.”

 

What to serve for dinner: Black-Eyed Pea Gumbo
(allrecipes.com) and Mississippi Mud Cake (Paula Deen/foodnetwork.com).

 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

5 stalks celery, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup brown rice

4 (15 ounce) cans black-eyed peas with liquid

1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

 

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and
cook the onion, pepper, and celery until tender. Pour in the chicken broth, and
mix in rice, black-eyed peas with liquid, diced tomatoes and green chiles,
diced tomatoes, and garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45
minutes, or until rice is tender. Add water if soup is too thick. Also sprinkle
with additional Cajun seasonings and hot sauce if more heat is desired.

 

Mississippi Mud Cake

 

2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup cocoa

1/4 cup water

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 bag miniature marshmallows

 

Icing:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons cocoa

6 tablespoons milk

1 (1-pound) box confectioners’ sugar

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 by
9-inch baking pan. Combine the sugar, salt, and flour in a large mixing bowl.
Bring the butter, oil, cocoa, and 1/4 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Add to
the flour mixture.

 

Beat together the eggs, baking soda, buttermilk, and
vanilla. Add to the chocolate mixture, mix well, and pour into the prepared
pan. Bake for 25 minutes.

 

While the cake is baking, make the icing by melting the
butter in the cocoa and milk over low heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then
remove from the heat. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Slowly mix in the nuts
and the vanilla. Take the cake from the oven, and when it cools a bit cover it
with miniature marshmallows. Pour the warm icing over the cake and the
marshmallows. Cool the cake before serving.

 

What to talk about over dinner: How have things changed from
the 1960s until now? Can you imagine living in a time like that? How are race
relations different? Did you read the book? How do you feel the movie differs
from the book? Does it? What is your favorite book-turned-movie? The worst one?
Who was your favorite character in “The Help?” How do you think it
will score at the Academy Awards this Sunday? Who is going to wear the tackiest
dress? The best? Which film will win best movie? Rumor has it the Oscar is
Viola’s to lose. Agree or not? Or do you think Michelle Williams will go home
with the award? What was the part of the film that resonated most deeply with
you? What have you done that has gone against the grain of societal norms? When
have you bucked the system for what you believed in? Would you have given up on
“The Help” after 10 rejections? Thirty? What do you think made
Stockett keep going? What are you that passionate about?