‘The Help’: The Reviews Are In!

While some hail the film as the finest drama of the summer, other critics aren't as kind.

“It feels kind of scary saying this because that means it’s only downhill, but it’s been the best year of my life,” Emma Stone told MTV News late last year as we honored her as the actress we were most thankful for in 2010.

The past eight months, however, have hardly been downhill, and Stone might soon have to rework her conception of a superlative year. The year 2011 has seen Stone, among other things, nominated for her first Golden Globe , film her lead role in “The Amazing Spider-Man” and win advance plaudits for a dramatic, yet at times comedic, turn in “The Help,” which hit theaters Wednesday (August 10).

In a summer filled with wizards and robots and all manner of nasty alien invaders, some critics are pointing to “The Help” as perhaps the finest drama of the season, highlighting not only Stone’s performance, but that of Viola Davis, who could well be part of the upcoming awards-season hubbub. Other reviewers, though, haven’t been as kind, citing a jumbled story structure and an overall maudlin tone that distracts from the weighty themes of the film. Read on for those critiques and more:

The Story
“What the film lacks is a strong point of view. The story is all over the place on that front, bouncing from one perspective to another. … Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) has just graduated from college in Mississippi in the 1960s and returned home. The town is divided, Black and White, and nowhere is this more evident than in Skeeter’s social circle, young women married as soon as possible, raising children — or, more accurately, having their children raised by the Black women who work for them. … Skeeter wants to be a serious writer, and a New York editor (Mary Steenburgen) needs something to judge her on. So Skeeter, having gotten a job at the local newspaper writing a housecleaning column, asks Clark for help with tips. But what she really wants is to know how the ‘help’ is treated, about the world from their perspective, for a book.” — Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic

The Performances
” ‘The Help’ is Davis’s movie, and it’s about time. Davis underplays everything, even the movie’s big ‘racism is bad’ moments. When she informs Skeeter that she raised ’18 babies’ — meaning mostly, of course, white people’s babies — you don’t doubt for a minute that they turned out great. … In terms of its basic plot points, ‘The Help’ only skates along the surface of one of the most painful and violent periods in our country’s history. But in the latitude it allows its performers — and in the way those performers dig deep into their roles, to find more, perhaps, than what was actually written there — ‘The Help’ is anything but conventional.” — Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline

The Adaptation
“[The movie] isn’t likely to win any converts among those who couldn’t abide Stockett’s dialect-heavy writing and earnest but vaguely self-congratulatory tale. … [Director Tate Taylor's] strength, as it was in his debut ['Pretty Ugly People'], is in fully mining the comic talents of his actors to help the drama go down; he’s less sure-footed in handling the big themes. In being true to the book and the complex interlocking stories and characters Stockett created, Taylor runs into the same difficulty — too many happy endings that come too fast and fail to foreshadow the difficulties that lie ahead.” — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

The Comparisons
“As a book and a movie and a social phenomenon, ‘The Help’ functions as a kind of Rorschach test that measures how you feel about the history of racial inequality in America. Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel is set in the profoundly segregated and hierarchical Deep South of the Jim Crow era, nearly half a century ago, and writer-director Tate Taylor’s handsome and largely admirable film adaptation captures the time and place in ravishing detail. ‘The Help’ definitely worked on me as a consummate tear-jerker with a terrific cast, and it’s pretty much the summer’s only decent Hollywood drama. You could also describe it as an accretion of familiar ingredients: ‘Mad Men’ plus ‘Steel Magnolias’ plus ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ plus ‘Mississippi Burning.’ ” — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

The Final Word
“Despite its occasional cloying moments, ‘The Help’ transcends its comfort-food-for-Oprah’s Book Club-ready wrapping to get at something deeper, the gray in a story that seems so far removed as to be utterly black and white. And Davis and [Octavia] Spencer give faces and fully-fleshed out lives to women who must have been more than what they did for a living as ‘The Help.’ ” — Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Help.”

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