Last week I devoured Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel The Help. I truly can’t remember the last time a book moved me so much that I literally couldn’t put it down — but that’s how I felt about Stockett’s story (told from three different perspectives) about a group of African-American maids in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, and an aspiring author who wanted their voices to be heard.
I hadn’t been too interested in the book before I saw its trailer — typically I gravitate toward sci-fi or nonfiction. Plus, as lame as this may sound, I didn’t want to be depressed; I figured that any book dealing with racial injustice in the South during such a tumultuous decade was bound to be a weeper. But the trailer was much more upbeat than I’d expected, and so I gave The Help a chance.
The problem, of course, is that when I read the book I already had Emma Stone in my head as Skeeter, Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly, Viola Davis as Aibileen, and Octavia Spencer as Minny. (Turns out that Spencer was actually the author’s inspiration for Minny in the first place, so no harm done from the trailer with that character!)
After I finished the novel I talked to a friend who’d read it when it first came out, and she was annoyed by the casting of Howard as Hilly. I can see her point — in the book Hilly has black hair and is not the slimmest woman on earth. I’m OK with Howard as Hilly, however, because more than her physical traits, I associated the character with snobbishness and faux-niceness, and it looks like Ron Howard’s offspring nailed it on those counts. The beef I do have with the trailer is kind of ironic, since it’s what inspired me to read the book: It’s too lighthearted. There was an undercurrent of dread running throughout the novel — a constant fear that something bad was going to happen to one of the beloved maids. And I didn’t get that sense at all from what was shown in the preview. I hope that in the rest of the film first-time director Tate Taylor stayed a bit more true to the book’s wide range of tones. Since Taylor is one of the author’s childhood friends and had optioned the film rights before the book was even published, I’m probably worrying about nothing.
The Help was a huge bestseller, so I know I’m not the only one who’s read it! What say the rest of you? Are the characters what you imagined? Are you excited for the adaptation’s August 12 release?
Redbox movies from the cast of The Help: