'The Help': What Critics Say

Dale Robinette/Dreamworks

Emma Stone stars opposite Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in Tate Taylor’s first major studio film.

Opening on Wednesday, August 10, Disney’s The Help is already generating buzz. The period pic is on-track to gross $5 million in its opening day, with projected expectations for $20 mil over the five-day debut.

'The Help': Film Review

The $25 mil movie’s early success could be partially due to film reviews. The cast’s performances are applauded across the board, while Viola Davis, especially, is recognized for her talents.

The Help is based on Kathryn Stockett’s best selling 2009 novel of the same name, also starring Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain and Allison Janney. Stockett’s childhood friend, Tate Taylor, directs the film.

STORY: Box Office Report: 'The Help' Off to a Strong Start in Midweek Bow

“Taylor does capture the Jim Crow era and its anxieties well, but his characters tend toward the facile and his white heroine is too idealized,” writes The Hollywood Reporter’s Kirk Honeycutt. “The film also seems as if it were made in a void of cinematic ignorance, as if no motion picture of that or any other era ever tackled this topic. Consequently, there is almost nothing new here that filmmakers, novelists and historians haven’t picked over years ago.”

“Where The Help succeeds magnificently though is in character portraits by actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer,” he adds.

“It’s a popular entertainment that finds its historical footing in the faces of its actors,” says Stephanie Zacharek of MovieLine. “The Help may not tell us much about the real horrors of the civil rights era, but it does tell us something about the way people lived — and the way they handled their often conflicting loyalties and resentments — while those horrors were playing out. In that sense, it’s a radical movie masquerading as a tame, inoffensive one.”

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal raves, "The Help is bound to be a hit. Just as readers loved the book, for good reason—its resonant themes transcended its imperfect craftsmanship—audiences starved for substance after a long, dry summer will embrace the movie."

Adding, "They'll do so not only for the white guilt it addresses, and deftly mitigates, but for the plot's entertaining contrivances (chief among them a climax of cyclonic uplift), the bonds of love between whites and blacks and a cast of outsize characters that includes Bryce Dallas Howard's chillingly bigoted Hilly, smiling incessantly and focused on preserving white purity with ever more black-only toilets; and Jessica Chastain's desperate, white-trashy Celia. Sissy Spacek's Missus Walters isn't outsize, she's just-right-size. Droll in her dottiness, the old dame is devoid of illusions about the hypocrisy that surrounds her."

The Help, which Taylor wrote for the screen as well as directed, 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 of a young white writer who strikes up a Jim Crow-defying friendship with black domestic workers in 1963 Mississippi,” notes The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday. “But readers who felt they came to intimately know characters such as Celia, Minny and Skeeter are likely to greet their alter egos on screen like cherished, long-lost friends.”

“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. That can work well in a novel, but not so much in a movie,” explains The Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz. “Also, and this may be unfair but it is still evident, The Help carries a little hint of the Great White Savior about it. This doesn't ruin the film by any means, but it also can't be ignored.”

David Denby of The New Yorker insists, "The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling 2009 novel, is, in some ways, crude and obvious, but it opens up a broad new swath of experience on the screen, and parts of it are so moving and well acted that any objections to what’s second-rate seem to matter less as the movie goes on. This is the kind of heartfelt liberal picture that Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) or Martin Ritt (Sounder) would have made forty or fifty years ago, but with a different subject."

"The Help is the best movie I've seen so far this year,” gushes George Pennachio of KABC’s Hollywood Wrap.

The Help is produced by Touchstone Pictures and DreamWorks, opening nationwide Aug. 10.