Raising Helen
review by 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 the eyes.

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 completely rote.

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.

Directed by:
Garry Marshall

Starring:
Kate Hudson
John Corbett
Joan Cusack
Hayden Panettiere
Spencer Breslin
Abigail Breslin
Helen Mirren
Sakina Jaffrey
Kevin Kilner
Felicity Huffman
Sean O'Bryan
Amber Valletta

Written by:
Jack Amiel
Michael Begler

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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