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"The Help" hits theaters to mixed reviews

The movie adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel "The Help" garnered praise for its lead actors but was criticized for taking weighty issues too lightly.

By Megan WassonMonitor contributor / August 10, 2011

'The Help,' starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer, hits theaters today.

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The most eagerly awaited movie première this August is undoubtedly today's release of "The Help," based on the book of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.

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Featuring "Easy A" 's Emma Stone, reknowned actress Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer, "The Help" centers on Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, played by Stone. Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss college, and gets a job writing for a local paper.

When one of Skeeter's childhood friends gets the idea to draft a bill requiring segregated bathrooms for the black and white residents of the town, Jackson, Mississippi, Skeeter decides to interview the maids in her community, or "the help," many of whom raised Skeeter and her peers.

The resulting book (also titled "The Help"), sends shockwaves through the small Southern town.

The film adaptation of Stockett's novel has premiered to mixed, but mostly positive reviews. The majority of critics agreed that the leading trio's performances were extremely strong. David Edelstein said that "The Help belongs to Viola Davis," while Jim Slotek from Jam! Movies thinks that "any number of these performances may be remembered come rewards season."

Critics also praised the film's sincerity, with Chris Vognar from the Dallas Morning News describing the film as "lived-in and genuine," and Rafer Guzman from Newsday calling it "incredibly refreshing."

On the other hand, others disagreed with the film's light-hearted feel and thought that it glossed over deeper issues that cold have been explored. In The Boston Herald, James Verniere calls it "historical kitsch," while Karina Longworth of the Village Voice said the film relied on a "fairly typical Hollywood flattening of history, with powerful villains and disenfranchised heroes," a sentiment echoed by other reviewers who wished for more subtlety.

Overall "The Help" got a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, putting it firmly in the "charming but flawed" category.

Still, if you're looking for an end of summer break from rising apes and cowboy vs, alien wrestling matches, then "The Help" is a winning alternative. Endearing, full of powerful performances, and lighthearted (although perhaps a little too much so), it's a worthy adaptation of Stockett's lauded novel.

Megan Wasson is a Monitor contributor.

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