Emma Stone does not make bad movies. Until now. The Help feels like a strange combination of at least five or six different movies and even dear, sweet Emma can’t find her way through it. It at times feels like the sort of project that would make its debut on Lifetime, not in theaters nationwide. The trailer may look fantastic, but don’t be fooled. The Help largely falls short of what it could have been.

Based on the novel by Michael Barnathan and set in 1960s Mississippi, The Help should be a straightforward film with a simple plot. It follows Skeeter (Emma Stone) as she tries to establish her recently college graduated self as a writer and passionate career woman, not just a wife and mother as her friends have become. Not satisfied ghostwriting a housecleaning advice column for the local paper, she begins a project interviewing black women in her community about their experiences working for white families and raising white children. While this gains her favor with publishers in New York, her southern community is not supportive and soon the entire town is, in the words of Walt Disney Pictures, “unwittingly – and unwillingly – caught up in the changing times.”

Instead of sticking to this idea, The Help includes a slew of subplots and supporting characters that are often unnecessary. As a result, the movie drags on forever and the theater begins to feel like an elevator stuck between floors with no alarm button to push. A perfect example is the brief arc with Skeeter’s love life. Initially characterized as an independent woman who doesn’t need or even want a man in her life, once friends introduce her to a new suitor (Chris Lowell) she drops this front after about a scene and a half and all of a sudden they are enough in love for some gross PDA. This relationship never really has anything to do with anything else, though they try their hardest to force in some girl power character development moments. In the end, it feels contrived, same with all the joke attempts (save one, but it’s such a funny visual gag that words can’t do it justice) and a few other storylines.

If anything good comes out of The Help, it is the revelation that Stone is not a perfect angel who can do no wrong. The girl is human after all. After being one of the most hilarious parts of Friends with Benefits, despite only having one scene and a great performance in Crazy, Stupid, Love, (not to mention previous good work in Superbad and Easy A) she falls flat here. Her accent comes and goes and thanks to the poor direction of Tate Taylor, she moves through each scene awkwardly and never really settles in to the role. Viola Davis is almost fantastic as Aibileen, the first of the maids to open up to Skeeter, but seems pulled from a different movie altogether. Most disappointing, however, are Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek. The former is a far cry from her typical self in the role of Skeeter’s mother, the latter a cliché ‘crazy old lady’ character that has been seen hundreds of times before and fails to offer any genuine laughs.

But it’s the production design and musical score that really make The Help hard to watch. Over the top costumes, visual gags that don’t quite work, obvious styling (we know Skeeter is different than those other girls because her hair is curly), and a more cartoonish than period feel combine in the worst ways. Thomas Newman’s score hits every single music cliché possible. It overstates the emotion of each scene, sticks out like a sore thumb where it should be subtle, and often sounds like something from a made-for-TV movie rather than a big studio film.

Frying chicken may indeed “make you feel better about life,” as one of Skeeter’s maid-informants tells her, but The Help doesn’t make the viewer feel anything. With such an interesting story and a fantastic trailer, it’s a shame that the full film wastes its potential. It clearly doesn’t know if it is supposed to be a period piece, a broad comedy, a serious drama, or a goofy chick flick. It fails in attempts to find the middle ground, jumping from one genre to the other. Instead of the touching, subtly humorous look at a conflicted and changing community during an incredibly tumultuous time in American history that this movie could have been, The Help is an over the top, joke of a movie that manages to be both boring and have too much going on.