Bottom line: The weighty civil rights issues as well as other themes tackled in The Help are heartrending, but humor and the gentle ambiance of the movie lighten the mood. Heavy thematic material surrounds issues such as racism, some domestic violence, and miscarriage.MPAA Rating: PG-13, for thematic material
Guide age recommendation: 12+
Runtime: 137 minutes
Starring: Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Anna Camp
Release Date: August 10, 2011
The Help - Overview
Set in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help follows young college graduate Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, who has just returned home with a degree from Ole Miss. Skeeter dreams of being a writer, and while she immediately lands a job writing a cleaning column, she soon after decides to secretly pen a book exposing what life is like from the point of view of the help, the African American women who cook, clean and raise white children, only to have those children grow up and become their bosses.
Aibileen is the maid for Skeeter's best friend Elizabeth. She does all the cooking, she cleans, she goes to the grocery story, and most important, she takes care of Elizabeth's daughter Mae Mobley. Although reluctant at first, Aibileen is the first maid to agree to talk with Skeeter. She is motivated by a desire to remember her late son.
The next maid to agree to tell her story is Minny. Working for Miss Hilly Holbrook, the town's queen bee, Minny is the best cook in the county. Miss Hilly's manipulative ways finally become too much for Minny, though, and Minny does a "terrible, awful" to get back at her. After that, Minny goes to work for Celia Foote, a nice young lady who is considered white trash by Hilly and her friends.
As racial tensions rise and tragedy strikes in the town, more maids find the courage to come forward anonymously. Despite the possibility of a terrible backlash, the women tell all for a book that has the potential to turn their Mississippi town completely upside down.
The Help - Guide Review for Parents
How do you take a potentially highly emotionally charged, painful and divisive civil rights issue and make it into a pleasant, poignant unifying and uplifting story? -- by couching it in Southern charm, of course, and throwing in more than a dash of real, honest humor. Brilliantly translating the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett to the big screen, The Help tells a historical story about women, a story that will make you laugh, and probably cry, and it will likely leave you a better person for having seen it.
The movie sets the tone right away, not with a dark and dingy color scheme like you might expect would go along with a historical film about a trying time in America, but with bright lighting and color, especially hues of yellow-gold. This bright and sunshiny presentation cloaks the story, and along with the help of natural, genuine humor throughout, lightens the weightiness of the subject matter and hints at the uplifting feeling of triumph and sisterhood that will prevail.
Thematic elements that earned the movie a PG-13 rating involve racial tensions, of course, but other issues like death, miscarriage (blood is seen), domestic violence also play into the story. A few of these scenes may be very disturbing, even to older children. The movie also contains some language, drinking/drunkenness and a whole lot of smoking.
For older tweens and teens, though, this period movie has a lot of good potential. Filmmakers went to great lengths to get historical details right. Also, thought provoking sub-themes regarding education, peer pressure, prejudice and more bolster the already meaty civil rights issues which create an educational opportunity in and of themselves. For more detailed information on the content in the movie, please see the "content overview" below.
The Help - Content Overview*May contain spoilers.
- Violence (Medium): Most of the violence in this movie occurs off screen. We do see a couple little scuffles, and a woman spanking her child. We see an officer begin to strike a woman with his baton, and we hear the strike happen. We also see the aftermath of a shooting -- police everywhere, people rushing to get home or to find out what happened. Most disturbing is a scene where we can hear a woman screaming and it is obvious that her husband is hitting her. Later, we see her with bruises and a black eye. Throughout the movie, people are in fear of violence, and a few times past violent acts are discussed in detail.
- Scary Scenes (Medium): The scenes described under "violence" may be frightening to some viewers.
- Sex/Nudity (Low): Some women in the movie wear somewhat revealing clothing. A few kisses are shown, and one scene includes playful kissing as a husband tells his wife that he is "hungry" for lunch. An out-of-wedlock pregnancy is discussed.
- Drugs and Alcohol (High) Main characters and others smoke in numerous scenes. Also several scenes include drinking, and in at least one scene a women gets very drunk.
- Language (Medium): The "s" word is used several times, and the "a" word is used. The phrase "oh my God" or variations of the phrase are used many times. The "n" word is used a couple of times.
- Disrespectful/Imitative Behavior (Extreme): A woman bakes a pie with "s#@t" in it and gives it to another woman, who eats some. Several characters in the movie exhibit condescending, rude, racist behavior toward others. One main character, Hilly, manipulates others, lies and controls in order to get her way. A woman steals something to sell it to help her family.
- Sad/Unsettling Scenes (Extreme): Obviously, the racial prejudice is very sad and unsettling. Another shocking scene occurs when a woman walks in on another woman who has had a miscarriage and is covered in blood. One character has cancer and is dying. One character is unresponsive to her child. A child cries hysterically when her caregiver is sent away.
- Movie Topics Kids Might Have Questions About: civil rights, racism, Jim Crow laws, domestic abuse, miscarriage, pregnancy, women's rights, smoking, drinking, drunkenness, manipulation, peer pressure