"The Help" Wasn't Actually Very Good

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 24 2012 9:41 AM

"The Help" Wasn't Actually Very Good

I'm bending and abusing the rules governing a "politics and policy" blog, yes, but I want an answer: Why did people like The Help so much. Its Oscar nominations nominations seem largely fair. Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, and Octavia Spencer all did fine work with mawkish material. You could say the same thing about the other overtly political movie on the list, The Iron Lady, where Meryl Streep used mediocre, obvious material as the foundation of a great Margaret Thatcher impersonation. But The Help was was a how-not-to-do-this example of uplifting civil rights drama.

Hang on, spoiler warning.

Advertisement

Let's start with the device that moves the entire third act of the movie: Minnie, played by Spencer, bakes her feces into a pie and tricks her horrible old employer Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) into eating it. The poop jokes has a lofty, traditional place in American cinema, but I was never sure what it had to do with the drama of black liberation from Jim Crow. Every plot twist protected its characters from danger, whether it was Viola Davis's lead being basically ready to retire when Hilly defrauds her out of a job, or Skeeter's (Emma Stone) boyfriend being a generic racist who was easy to abandon when her New York life beckoned.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?