RAISING HELEN

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                Director Garry Marshall and a big crew of writers miss the bullís-eye with this shot at family comedy Ė but not by much.  Kate Hudson is a versatile, starlit actor who is asked to save this movie from its own inherent mistakes.  There is nothing she can do about the miscasting of three child actors who try hard but simply arenít interesting enough to carry a film built almost entirely around them.

                Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) is the crackerjack assistant to Dominique (Helen Mirren), a sophisticated, savvy, fashion executive who navigates beautifully through the snakes that crawl through the competition of the fashion world.  Helen is no snake; she simply has all the tools of  her trade and uses them well.  She is a single, successful New Yorker Ė for the moment. 

                At a suburban birthday celebration, we soak up the family dynamics.  Helen has two sisters:  a soulmate in Lindsay ( Felicity Huffman), and a dour critic in Jenny (Joan Cusack) who come with an assortment of children and husbands.  Lindsay is lovely, so we know she will be the one who dies with her nice husband in a car crash.  Jenny dispatches the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood with a rigid orderliness that quickly drives us mad.  We begin to hope that Joan Cusack, marvelous nut that she is, was cast for a reason, that her earnest character is holding something in reserve for a big surprise. 

Two scenes promise us much:  Kate Hudsonís Helen handles news of the accident deftly when it comes via phone, and when she comforts the children silently on their motherís closet floor.  This is a woman who does not overact and who understands well the deeper dimensions of her character.  She will rise to the challenge of raising her sisterís children.   

                When John Corbett appears as Pastor Dan Parker, a handsome Lutheran minister/headmaster of a perfect school for the children, the promise of early scenes drops into standard fare.  Suddenly we know romance will flower and the children will survive, but the whole thing is uninspired.  The children never come alive as characters.  The problems fall to facile solutions, and before long, every situation seems like stock TV footage.

                Kate Hudson and Joan Cusack are stifled by the constraints of mediocre writing.  Each of them has shown at other times a real knack for making good material sing.  Here we are waiting for them to save the movie from a dull script while making do with Hudsonís marvelous grin and the promise of Cusackís talent.  The talent explosion, when it finally comes, is not enough to save the movie.  The only transcendent moments come from Helen Mirren who has grand internal wiring that allows her to bring the touch of a wily professional to a movie that is sinking.  When youíre not having fun with Hudson, Mirren, and Cusack aboard, itís not the fault of the actors.   


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