Thursday, August 11, 2011

Family Film Guide: 'The Help' Is a Weepy Mother-Daughter Date

'The Help' Director: Tate Taylor Rated: PG-13 for thematic material Starring: Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Emma Stone , Octavia L. Spencer Common Sense Media rating: On for 11+ Moviefone Mama Says: Mothers (and fathers) be warned -- this film will require the use of a Kleenex, sleeve, or concessions' napkin. But don't let the tissue requirement keep you away, because for once a movie is not only as worthy as the book on which it's based, it's a fantastic way for families with middle and high-schoolers to discuss prejudice and humanity and what it means to be an American. The performances in Tate Taylor's adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's debut novel are divine; there's not a weak link in the cast, from the ambitious and slightly misfit Stone to the please-give-her-an-Oscar Davis to the evil-with-a-smile Howard and the hilariously mischievous Spencer. Go for the cast, stay for the story, and leave feeling like a good cry and conversation. Did You Know?: Octavia Spencer beat out dozens of interested -- and more famous -- black actresses for the role of Minny. But the odds were in her favor, because not only is she a close friend of the author, Kathryn Stockett and a housemate of the director Tate Taylor, she was actually Stockett's inspiration for the character. Parent Concerns: The issue of Jim Crow racism in the Deep South isn't exactly a light-and-easy topic, and there is some occasionally salty language and mention of domestic abuse, the assassination of politicians and Civil Rights activists, premarital pregnancy, miscarriage, and (obviously) racist behavior and comments. Here are three talking points to extend your moviegoing experience. 1. Get Up, Stand Up: Although Skeeter is an early catalyst for what happens with the maids of Jackson, ultimately this story belongs to "the help." Often movies about the Civil Rights movement focus on the perspective of an outsider, but 'The Help' is only one-third Skeeter's tale. The heart of the matter is what Aibileen and Minny have gone through dealing with the white families that employ them. Besides Skeeter, who else treats the maids like fellow human beings? How is that character different than the other women in the movie? Do you think May Mobley will grow up any less racist than her mother? 2. History Lesson: It's easy to forget that just a few decades ago, the color of your skin determined pretty much everything you were entitled, especially in states that adopted segregationist laws that were militantly defended. This film is an important reminder to viewers too young to have lived through the Civil Rights Era that there used to be more racist Hilly Holbrooks in parts of the country (like Mississippi) than open-minded Skeeters. How far have we come when it comes to prejudice and discrimination? Do your kids still witness in but in subtler ways? 3. Read It & See It: Kathryn Stockett's best-selling debut novel is one of the most popular "book club picks" right now, so why not host your own mini-book club with other parents and teen readers? Read the novel and discuss the differences with the movie. What changes made sense given the visual medium, and which plot elements do you wish had been included in the movie? Which characters are closest to their written counterparts? Three to See: More Race-Relations Movies That Matter: 1. 'To Kill a Mockingbird': Considered one of the best page-to-screen adaptations ever made, this is Harper Lee's seminal story of young Scout Finch and her father, the righteous defense attorney Atticus Finch (the inimitable Gregory Peck), come to life. A must-see for all. 2. 'Glory': Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick give remarkable (and in Washington's case Oscar-winning) performances in this brilliant but sometimes-violent depiction of the Union's all-black 54th regiment, led by Robert Gould Shaw (Broderick). 3. 'Remember the Titans': In this inspiring but humorous sports drama, Denzel Washington plays the first black football coach in a newly desegregated Virginia high-school coming to terms with integration. Great soundtrack, impressive young cast; it's a fun family pick.

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