Mixed or average reviews - based on 40 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 16 out of 40
  2. Negative: 3 out of 40
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  1. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    Frustratingly anemic, the filmmakers hiding behind their good taste and sensitivity. They might as well have gone for broke, since Plath and Hughes' daughter accused them of monstrous exploitation anyway.
  2. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Still, there is an estimable integrity to the respect and fidelity with which the film regards its subjects, as well as an honesty in its attempt to illuminate the essences of these difficult people.
  3. 60
    Having dreaded the prospect of Sylvia, I admired it precisely because it refuses to play along with the mythologizing that has sprung up, and vulgarized, the lives of two poets. [20 October 2003, p. 206]
  4. 60
    A handsome, mostly tasteful production on par with 2001's Bayley-Murdoch impersonation "Iris."
  5. Aside from Paltrow's performance, Sylvia is neither a film so spectacular it shouldn't be missed nor something so tepid you have to stay away.
  6. 60
    A not-very-good movie about a fascinating and underexplored subject: the unknowability of a marriage.
  7. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    While there's plenty of Shakespeare, Lawrence and Yeats scattered throughout John Brownlow's screenplay, there's precious little Plath -- no doubt the unfortunate result of the stranglehold the Hughes estate still maintains over her work.
  8. 50
    It's a dreary movie about a dreary character, offering little insight into her poetry or the mental illness that ultimately conquered her.
  9. Broadly speaking, the popular literary biopic is a hopeless subgenre, but this account of the relationship between Sylvia Plath and husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes manages to test the rule thanks to its unusual seriousness and first-rate performances.
  10. It's a coy, cautious film about a frank, fearless writer.
  11. 50
    Compare Sylvia to another, more powerful film about a tragic literary death: "Iris," about Iris Murdoch's descent into Alzheimer's, leaves you with an aching heart and reddened eyes. After the equally sorrowful Sylvia, we are entertained but unmoved.
  12. 50
    In spite of Frieda Hughes' objections, a few snippets of Plath's poetry slip into Sylvia, but they don't do the movie any favors--they just add more weight to a story that already buckles at the knees.
  13. The movie doesn't shed much light on their famously contentious marriage. Instead, it spreads gloom all around.
  14. 50
    This frigid and inaccessible period piece wears its glumness like a shroud.
  15. 50
    Paltrow looks glam even in death, which only supports the notion, raised by Plath’s daughter Frieda Hughes, that the movie would be about a "Sylvia Suicide Doll." Good call.
  16. The problem with Christine Jeffs’s Sylvia, as with most movies about deeply troubled artists, is that for the most part we are seeing the troubles and not the artist.
  17. 42
    The film, bleeding its central character of all shades but black and darkest gray, fails as both biographical chronicle and filmed narrative.
  18. Sylvia also makes it seem as though, even at her happiest, she never received much pleasure from life. This makes for a long, slow procession to the oven door -– so dark, somber, and lifeless is this well-intentioned biography.
  19. This feature glimpse into the Bell Jar is an exercise in drudgery, with nothing particularly insightful or revealing to say about the charter member of the Suicidal Poets Society and the artistic endeavor in which she would make her indelible mark.
  20. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    The film's claustrophobic, color-coordinated dourness yields little illumination, and as the surging violins accompany our heroine's un-raveling mind, the movie comes queasily close to romanticizing suicide. I knew I was supposed to feel something, but what?
  21. Reviewed by: Phil Hall
    A mediocre film that presents the troubled poet Sylvia Plath as a jealous, possessive and irritating woman. It is hard to recall another biopic which is so unflattering to its subject.

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