Raising Helen
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Garry Marshall
scr Jack Amiel, Michael Begler
with Kate Hudson, Joan Cusack, John Corbett, Hayden Panettiere, Spencer Breslin, Abigail Breslin, Helen Mirren, Hector Elizondo, Sakina Jaffrey, Michael Esparza, Amber Valletta, Paris Hilton
release US 28.May.04, UK 9.Jul.04
04/US 1h59

The sexy pastor and his girl: Corbett and Hudson.

cusack mirren panettiere
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Raising Helen Garry Marshall has made a career out of fluffy rom-coms--from Pretty Woman to The Princess Diaries. These movies sand off all the rough edges and inject as much sentimentality as possible (Beaches, anyone?). Which pretty much describes this bland, uneven, overly soppy movie.

Helen (Hudson) works in a Manhattan modelling agency, indispensable to her imperious boss (Mirren) and enjoying the free-spirited highlife. Then her older sister and brother-in-law are killed in a car crash, leaving their three lively kids (rebellious teen Pannettiere, middle kid Spencer Breslin, pre-schooler Abigail Breslin) to her care. This is a surprise, because Helen's other sister Jenny (Cusack) is already the perfect mom! While trying to respect her dead sister's wishes, Helen gets into all sorts of trouble at work, starts to fall for the local pastor (Corbett) and begins to wonder if it's just too much.

Besides the clunky filmmaking style, which plays up the physical comedy without ever drawing a laugh, the premise itself is deeply flawed, asking us to believe that Helen isn't a grown up before she discovers the joys of motherhood. This lazy worldview infuses the entire script, with characters that only emerge from their stereotypes in the most stereotypical way imaginable--the pastor is actually sexy, the uptight Jenny can crack a good joke, the bad girl teen isn't really so bad. It's just so thoroughly unchallenging that it boggles the mind!

The actors do what they can with the material, especially the fine child actors, while Cusack, as always, adds a layer of meaning beneath the surface that makes her the most interesting character. The charming Hudson struggles to find either the comic timing or the dramatic weight to make the role come to life, but this is probably due to Marshall's limp direction. Like his other movies, this film completely ignores the earthy truth inherent in the story, glossing over the realities of grief, single parenthood and severe life changes. And it's sad that audiences seem to love these shiny, undemanding and deeply fake movies. Escapism is one thing; denial is another.

cert PG themes, some language, innuendo 7.May.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Raising Helen Ina Grozeva, North Olmsted: 5/5 "i thought this was a good movie. although i think there should have been more of michael esparza. please try to get some pictures of him." (2.Jun.04)
2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall