Dan Lybarger, 4 June 2004
Raising Helen can probably best
be described as a reworking of Jersey Girl with better acting
and more assured handling. The core idea isnít that interesting, but
at least the people involved seem more committed and up to the task.
Basically, comparing the two films
is like getting the same sundae at McDonaldís from one employee
whose mind is somewhere else and another who has the routine
mastered. Either way, the nutritionís not there, and thereís no
surprise to speak of, but one tastes a little better.
Itís exactly the sort of movie
youíd expect from Garry Marshall, who gave us Pretty Woman
and The Princess Diaries. The core flaw of Raising Helen
is that Marshall and screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler
offer nothing that hasnít been seen before.
The setup sounds like a leftover
pitch from the TV sitcoms that Marshall used to churn out in the
70s. Kate Hudson stars as Helen Harris, an up and coming drone at a
high-powered modeling agency whose career of schmoozing and partying
in the right places dominates her entire life. Itís a safe bet that
if she shows up at a family gathering, sheíll be late (if at all)
and on her way to another hip soirťe to help plug another client.
That quickly changes when her
sister Lindsay (Felicity Huffman) dies in an accident and wills the
care of her children to Helen. This seems like an odd decision
because Helenís older sister Jenny (Joan Cusack, in a typically show
stealing turn) lives for being a mother and has room for Audrey
(Hayden Panettiere), Henry (Spencer Breslin, The Kid) and
Sarah (Abigail Breslin, Signs).
Helen is initially terrified of
having surrogate motherhood thrust upon her, but curiously answers
the call of her dormant maternal instincts. From here, everything
comes preassembled. You know when the kids will act up or when Helen
will bungle something or when Marshall expects you to get moist in
Itís rather telling that when the
woman who accompanied me to the screening missed reading some of the
opening credits, she asked me after the ending if Raising Helen
was a Garry Marshall film. Several of his stock performers like
Larry Miller and Hector Elizondo have amusing bits, and the tone,
content and style are pretty much set in granite. Marshall doesnít
shake anything up for fear of violating the principles that made his
hit films popular.
The cast thankfully keep the
enterprise from feeling completely stale. Hudson may not be pushing
herself too hard, but she is sufficiently appealing to make waiting
though the rest of the film. As he did with My Big Fat Greek
Wedding, John Corbett takes a generic love interest role (in
this case a friendly Lutheran pastor who takes a liking to Helen)
and injects enough sly charm to keep the romance from feeling
The kids are game, and featuring
real-life siblings like the Breslins gives Raising Helen a
feeling of authenticity thatís missing from the rest of the movie.
To Marshallís credit, he has a decent understanding of his potential
audience (unlike Jersey Girl director Kevin Smith, who
unsuccessfully tried to juggle sentimentality and vulgarity) and
what they might want it a film. Itís too bad the unexpected isnít
part of his formula.