SkaOreo's comment could perhaps do with being more specific, because what film isn't manipulative?
I think we all get the gist of what he means, and what most people really mean when they say "manipulative", but the phrase is an odd, shortcutty one that - taken to logical ends - surely negates what we value in cinema.
I guess I'm just sensitive to it right now after its use against Steven Spielberg and War Horse. Not that I've seen the film, it seems like the critics gunning for Spielberg without due, tenable criticism(!). It's this obsession we all have with building up and building up a figure before tearing him down, blaming that figure for his hubris. Successful? How dare he!
Let me use an example. At the very end of the film, we see Viola Davis walking away into the sunset after being fired by town-bitch/sociopath Hilly Holbrook in retaliation for the success of the book. I'll repeat that Viola Davis is the only worthwhile aspect of the film, and absolutely sells the scene as we witness Davis' character's final goodbye to the little girl. It's a moment of tragedy that turns into one of hope as Davis muses how she can finally become a writer and tell her own story.
BUT NOOOOOOOOOOPE!!! It isn't enough for the film to have a bittersweet ending; it needs to bring its audiences to their fucking knees in overwhelming anguish. So, as Viola Davis is walking away, the scene is interjected with cuts of the little girl banging on the window and calling Davis' name, finally ending with a single cgi tear (I wonder if this is a thing and whether this happens quite a bit in movies) streams down the girls face. It turns a fairly decent scene into one that is absolutely cheesy.
I understand what you mean, and perhaps you're correct in saying I'm misplacing "manipulative" for an entirely different word; however, everything about this film seems calculated in regards to how I'm supposed to feel towards specific moments in the movie. Any decent film should rely on the strengths of both its actors and script to sell genuine, human emotion, and it's something I did not get from "The Help."
Then again, people have claimed it is a racist movie, when it really isn't.
It certainly isn't racist--it deals with the "white protagonist that saves the Negroes" problem better than "The Blindside--"but it is understandable as to why people might be upset about the film. It's subject matter is still a sensitive issue for many people, and the film presents its historical background in a rather safe manner that uses just enough to mine "emotion" from the film, but not enough that will upset anyone in the theater.