The Help (2011)
Summary: Skeeter just graduated college and is hoping to find a worthy job as a journalist or writer. Given a chance with a weekly column on housekeeping tips, she notes she’d have to take lessons from ‘the help’ to learn what to write. This takes her into the world of 1950/1960s southern American black maids working under white families in Jackson, Mississippi. The lessons learned and the friendships shared are almost as delightful as the toilets-in-the-yard scene or even the famous pie scene.
Recommendation: There are a bevy of great female roles here if you don’t mind being a midcentury housewife or her maid. My favorite character was the pie-making Minny – Octavia Spencer rocked hard enough from a supporting role position, she got an Oscar for it. I would still recommend this movie for Spencer’s brand of sass and Viola Davis’ unflappable dignity if Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, and Bryce Dallas Howard were not in it (all favorites of mine).
The Family Stone (2006)
Summary: A Connecticut family, full of life and liberal qualities, welcomes the adult kids home for Christmas. Accompanying the eldest son, a successful stockbroker from NYC, is his conservative girlfriend played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Her portrayal of an anxious, semi-bigoted neurotic could appear cruel as she weighs in against the seven affable family members, but there is plenty of blame to share around. The matriarch has her private issues which are about to become public, the patriarch tries very hard to not play favorites, one sister is a gossipy backbiter, one brother is a ne’er-do-well skating along like a free-spirited loser, and the upright brother trying to propose marriage to his girlfriend in the middle of his huge noisy family really didn’t plan this well. The laughs are abundant, the affection feels real, the regard given (even amid insults and secret-telling) between family members is adorable, and it’s a bit of Christmas camaraderie that you can watch all year round.
Recommendation: Much as I appreciate Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams, and SJP, it’s Diane Keaton that is both subtle and overreacting in this role of mom that blows my head open every time I watch this movie. She makes me shriek and grieve and contemplate, and I always feel comfortable by the end.
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Summary: If you aren’t already familiar with the plot of P&P, here goes: A large family of girls must be married off to wealthy husbands to secure their future – at least, that’s how mom sees the situation. Of course, all of them want to marry for love, but not everyone gets what they want. Between the soldiers, wastrels, puppy-like do-gooders, and chilly nobles they are surrounded by, the Bennett ladies have a lot to consider before stepping out in public. It’s an examination of the British class and caste system from the early 1800s. And yet, it is more fun than that mere description says!
Recommendation: This is much more about the character of Elizabeth Bennet than whichever actress plays her. So many good versions have been presented by movies the world over, it’s hard to decide on a favorite. I chose Kiera Knightley’s portrayal for Elizabeth Bennett because it’s decent while my first choice might have been Lily James from ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ (2016), but it truly is a farce and much better enjoyed if you already know the unadulterated story.