Last night my book club attended an advanced screening of The Help. Knowing I was going to be attending the movie, I quickly read the book last week. If you haven’t read the book here’s a quick synopsis. The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960′s. Skeeter Phalen is a white girl in her early 20′s who aspires to be a great writer. She graduated with honors from Ole Miss but did not get the one thing that she was supposed to get in college – a husband. She is challenged by a female publisher in New York to write about a topic that nobody else is writing about. After a friend of hers begins to push a health initiative that would require white families to have separate bathrooms in their homes for the help, Skeeter decides to write the stories of the help. Skeeter has some difficulty getting any of the maids of Jackson to participate, but one brave soul, Aibileen steps up. Aibileen’s best friend Minnie joins in, and then eventually a number of other maids decide to join the cause. Sometimes there are heartwarming stories of families that truly love those they employ. Unfortunately but truthfully, it’s often not a pretty picture, but a story of how horribly and inhumanely some are treated. My favorite part of the story was the story of Minnie and her employer Celia. Celia is considered white-trash by most of the society women, but she has a heart of gold. Minnie has a reputation as a hot-head. It’s fun watching the relationship between this unlikely pair grow.
Last year I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller, also an excellent book. A Millions Miles is the story of Donald Miller working with a couple of men to adapt his memoir Blue Like Jazz into a movie. Beyond that, it’s a book that inspires you to live a better story. I bring this up, because when reading that book, I really started to realize how hard it is to adapt a book into a movie. For example, when describing a man walking down the street, the author can describe the cool breeze the man feels on his face. He can vividly describe how the dog the man sees reminds him of his childhood pet. He can describe the things he smells and on and on. The book can make you feel like you are there and you are the man. In the movie, it’s just a man walking down the street. It’s all these details that make a book great and why I love to read. Anyway, reading A Million Miles really helped me realize how difficult it can be to convey all those feelings and thoughts into a movie.
Movie adaptations don’t often have the complexity of the book that inspires them. And it’s probably not fair to expect movies to achieve that. The Help did a pretty good job. There were a few changes to the original story, but since I just read the book, the changes were a nice surprise. There were not any changes that I felt did not keep with the intent of the book. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t really feel the depth of the relationship between Minnie and Celia, but I’m not sure how they could have improved upon that without devoting a lot more time to that part of the story and there’s nothing else in the movie that I would have cut out. I did feel like Mrs. Walters’ character was deeper than it was in the book, which made for some of the funniest parts of the movie. And since this is a blog devoted to design, I loved the costume and set design. They truly take the viewer to the south in the 60′s. In this way, a movie can be better than a book. If the houses and outfits aren’t described, it can be hard to really imagine those aspects. Overall, I highly recommend The Help, both the book and the movie.