directed by Garry Marshall
written by Jack Ameil and Michael Begler
starring Kate Hudson, Joan Cusack and John Corbett
review by Stephen Notley
Hot on the heels of Kevin Smith's Jersey Girls, in which a hotshot thirtysomething trades in his fun successful life for the transformative awesomeness of parenthood, we now have Raising Helen, in which a hotshot thirtysomething trades in her fun successful life for the transformative awesomeness of… well, you get the idea.
This time the hotshot in question is Kate Hudson as Helen, a hip line-at-the-bar-jumping executive assistant at a brilliant modeling agency. She's something the envy of her two older sisters, both of whom have kids. Then the middle sister and her husband die and leave guardianship of her three kids to… Helen! The spinny free-livin' one! Why, she's just a kid *herself*! What a comic setup; the laughs will surely fly!
The youngest of Helen's new crew of kids is eight, so thankfully we're spared all diaper-related comedy. The thing is, we're sorta spared comedy of any other kind as well. The movie's pleasant enough, dotting from scene to inconsequential scene, but its highs aren't high and its lows aren't low. The three kids themselves are relatively issue-free; the youngest girl is trying to learn to tie her shoelaces, the middle boy isn't playing basketball any more, and the older daughter is trying to turn into a slut. All very solvable problems, and as a result there there's not a lot of grief, or conflict, or hilarity.
What there is a lot of is Joan Cusack, which is usually a good enough reason in itself to see a movie. Here she plays Helen's frumpy, no-fun older sister Jenny. She doesn't quite get to unleash the buttoned-down twitchy awesomeness she displayed in School of Rock, and she has the unwelcome task of being the bearer of the message Sometimes Being Mom Means Being Unpopular, but she's always great to see, here grumpy and hurt and bossy but bringing on the power of honed Momness just when it's needed. She's the only real source of dramatic or comic tension in the film.
In comparison to Cusack Kate Hudson seems kinda inconsequential. A lot of people liked her in Almost Famous though I really didn't dig her self-absorbed rockstar groupie bit; here in Raising Helen she's pretty enough, I suppose, but she doesn't seem to carry a lot of weight. None of the tasks laid before her are too strenuous and she bops along, getting an apartment in Queens, registering the kids in a Lutheran school, acquiring the attention of the pastor principal of said school played by John Corbett, Aidan from Sex and the City. She loses her job, she gets another job, she ties some shoelaces, she goes to the zoo, and so on and on and on until you start to wonder if the movie's ever gonna end. And in fact it never does; I'm still there, watching it, even as you read this.
Or no, it does end. As a movie Raising Helen is a flighty little thing, flighty as its protagonist; kinda odd considering it's supposed to be a movie about the responsibilities of parenthood, which I hear can get quite heavy at times. Raising Helen never really wants to get all serious and "Mom" on the audience, and so it pays the price in substance.
Still, I suppose this is a "family" movie, so if you had to take some kids to see a film you could do worse than to give the kids and yourself a good dose of Joan Cusack if nothing else. Cuz she's great!