Mook Review: The Help

The Help – Written by Kathryn Stockett

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I enjoyed reading The Help. When I first realized the novel was a multiple person narrative, I was nervous. Structuring a novel through several points of view is complicated. It is easy to get lost if each character doesn’t have a distinct voice and I think it lessens the quality of writing. However, Stockett does this beautifully; Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minny each have narratives specific to their manner of speaking and thinking. The different perspectives emphasize the intertwining story lines. Although Skeeter is our main character, since she has the most amount of back story, Aibileen is the heart and soul of this novel.  Her relationship with Mae Mobley combined with the grief of losing her own son reveal the internal struggle that really holds the novel together. The Help is about acceptance in every aspect of the world. For instance, Skeeter does not feel she needs acceptance from her friends and parents, and their standards. Aibileen wishes for Elizabeth to accept her daughter Mae Mobley, despite her flaws. Minny is forced to accept friendship from a white woman, Celia Foote, something she has never done before, something she thought impossible. These examples are only a few storylines that bring the theme of acceptance to the surface of the novel.

The one area of The Help that I felt was somewhat under-developed was Skeeter’s relationships with her family and their characters’ profiles in general. Perhaps Stockett did this on purpose to show that Constantine truly was the woman who raised her, which affected Skeeter’s relationships with her immediate family–particularly her mother, Charlotte. Regardless, I found that the overbearing harsh mother character was not very original and the cancer plot line did not have much of an effect on me, as a reader. Additionally, Skeeter’s romance with Stuart seems rushed and not very understandable. While reading, I couldn’t put my finger on why they were really dating in the first place or what they saw in each other.  Compared to the other relationships in the novel, I felt that Stockett did not develop these as properly as she could have.

A major flaw I found in the novel was inequality. Yes, The Help is about splitting open the tight-knit community white community of Jackson, Mississippi. The black maids, who have never spoken out before about their experiences caring for white families, are the ones who drive the most essential plot of the novel. But when it comes down to it, the novel rides on Skeeter’s success over the maids; she is the one truly  moving on at the end of The Help. She leaves Mississippi for New York and never turns back, but her good-bye to Aibileen and Minny is quite uninspiring. There doesn’t seem to truly be a connection between them. It’s obvious that these characters set out to accomplish different things; Skeeter wanted to do something that made her different from her peers and the maids wanted to speak the unspoken and give the white community unrest. The bottom line is there is still existing tension between the white and black characters which, in a few ways, defeats the purpose of the book. Regardless, I did think The Help was a fantastic read that you just couldn’t put down and I would recommend it to anyone.

“The Help” – Directed by Tate Taylor

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The first thing that really stood out as a major accomplishment for a Mook was casting and location. Viola Davis is so all-encompassing of Aibileen it almost brings a tear to your eye. Octavia Spencer is straight up hilarious, as Minny should be. Bryce Dallas Howard is the ultimate antagonist as Hilly Holbrook, incredibly condescending and downright cruel. And, of course, Emma Stone embodies all the quirks and awkwardness of Skeeter. While in the novel Skeeter is described as incredible tall with unruly, frizzy hair and pasty-pale complexion, I firmly believe casting Emma Stone was the right choice. It happens with many Mooks: when a female main character is meant to be somewhat ugly and awkward, most likely they will be cast by someone who can pull of the dorky look and still maintain some appeal (think Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series.) That being said, Stone has a reputation of being nerdy-hot and she really is a great actress. Her scenes when she is upset over Constantine are 100% believable, and I think she had just the right amount of sass and attitude.

The setting in the movie was also insanely perfect. I am assuming since Tate Taylor and Kathryn Stockett are childhood friends, Stockett had a lot of influence on the appearance of things. I felt like the scenery was plucked from what my imagination crafted while reading the novel and placed onto the screen. It is a very satisfying feeling.

There weren’t so many issues that I found with this particular Mook, just things I didn’t quite get; for example, the whole Minny/Celia/Johnny relationship. The audience doesn’t get the severity of how Minny feels in not having Johnny find out that she is working for his wife. In the novel, it is much more prevalent that Celia wants Minny’s help to be a secret, something which Minny is desperate to overcome as she is living in fear of what will happen if Johnny ever finds out. Evidently, the scene where Johnny finds Minny walking to his house and Minny runs away scared is kind of a surprise. Perhaps I felt this way only because I had read the novel prior to seeing the film. This area of the film seemed underdeveloped. Another problem I had was the major lack of Constantine scenes. In the novel she is so, so important to Skeeter, but in the movie, mentions of Constantine seem few and far between. Something that was essential to the novel is brushed under the rug. That being said, I don’t think these things did any damage to the Mook itself or take away from plot lines/character development.

As a movie, “The Help” is truly phenomenal and deserving of all the critics’ praise and Oscar buzz. As a Mook, it only fell a little bit short. It accomplished what it needed to and the characters were truly “brought to life.” I enjoyed it just as much as the novel and it felt as close to perfect as a Mook can possibly be.

Mook Rating – ★ ★ ★ ★1/2


Mook Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Written by Stieg Larsson

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I am a huge fan of the Millennium Trilogy.  While I would recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to virtually anyone, I would suggest it mostly to dedicated readers and for two reasons. First, while Dragon Tattoo is a suspenseful read, anyone who has finished it will tell you the first 50-75 pages of the novel are tough.  Stieg Larsson uses a large portion of the novel to introduce characters, plotlines, and an overload of information, which makes the beginning of Dragon Tattoo very boring and hard to get through.  So, before you read this book, you must be dedicated to making it past the all the loose ends and on to the juicy details.  Second, once you read Dragon Tattoo, the succeeding novels The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest are soon to follow. Essentially, you aren’t just reading one book…you’re reading three.

Now, onto the important stuff.  Stieg Larsson is something of a genius in the way Dragon Tattoo is crafted.  His two main characters are total opposites in general terms but, once unified, complement each other perfectly.  Mikhail Blomkvist, being somewhat of a ladies man and plain in both the physical and emotional sense. He has intimate relationships with several women throughout the course of the novel and seems like the average man Lisbeth Salander would despise.  Salander is clearly the star of the Millennium Trilogy.  Her asocial behavior, dark fashion sense and rough around the edges attitude doesn’t make her particularly relatable, but she demands respect and is shown in many different lights.  Particularly, Larsson’s choice to show Salander at points of vulnerability make her seem more like a genuine person, rather than an ultra-feminist heroine type that no normal person could actually be.

Characters aside, the plotline of Dragon Tattoo was the definition of a crime mystery.  As someone who often senses the twists and surprising turns in the movie, with this novel’s plot I was utterly lost—and I enjoyed it.  It makes the book very difficult to put down. I did find the ending to be slightly dragged-out.  Once the Vanger mystery is solved I did not need the excess filler information that Larsson is very fond of, there are at least 100 pages of continuous plot once the mystery is solved and, while it was interesting and definitely added to the novel, it did not seem essential.  Those were the major qualms I had with Dragon Tattoo—unnecessary tidbits of information that were hard for me, as a reader, to digest.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – Directed by David Fincher

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I thoroughly enjoyed Fincher’s translation of the novel as it stayed very true to the majority of text and kept you on the edge of your seat.  I found Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander to be quite fantastic and spot-on; she was clearly the frontrunner of the films actors. Daniel Craig was just okay as Mikhail Blomkvist.  His accent wait heinous, but his acting was average and he fulfilled the role as it needed to be.

There were a few theatrical choices that I did not understand.  To start, the opening credits were so incredibly bizarre and disconnected from the rest of the film I found it did not make any sense, whatsoever.  Basically, it was a compilation of computer-generated images related to all things Salander, covered in slick black oil and set to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” performed by Karen O and Trent Reznor. I can see the purpose in highlighting Salander’s role—after all, she is the girl with the dragon tattoo—but this dark, rock n’ roll opening sequence just did not fit in with the rest of the movie.

In general, the movie did not go as in-depth with some of the stories plotlines, which is acceptable.  The film accomplishes in a few minutes what the novel could not.  The Blomkvist/Wennerstrom libel case comes across thoroughly and understandably. I was upset that Fincher decided to nix Blomkvist’s jail stint. I know that films have time constraints, and at 2 hours and 30 minutes of screen time I am aware that Fincher had precious little of it.  However, I felt the severity of Blomkvist going to jail and the seriousness of the issue was overlooked.

Of course, the biggest change from book-to-movie was the ending.  In my personal opinion, I felt the “real” ending would have dragged the movie out way too much.  These are the sacrifices mooks must make!  All in all, I felt Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was very successful and a breath of fresh air.  With a complex novel such as Larsson’s it is easy to seriously screw up the film translation of it, but Fincher did a really phenomenal job and I look forward to the succeeding movies.

Mook Rating –  ★ ★ ★ ★