Garry Marshall flick tries to add new life to old plot
May 27, 2004
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor
First, let's just
say that a movie that contains the line, I'm a sexy man of God, can't
be all that bad. But Raising Helen gives it a shot.
the production notes, the script idea's birth was in the realization by co-author
Beth Rigazio that if her sister died, she would end up with the kids. With the
plot having been used in approximately 2,487 movies previously (not to mention
untold numbers of television episodes), it is surprising that it took such an
None of us are new to the story of the young party-person, not
yet ready to be an adult, who suddenly ends up with a gaggle of children. Growth
ensues and everybody ends up happy. And that's pretty much what happens. For a
movie to succeed on territory so well explored, what is necessary is a new twist,
or stratospheric performances from the actors.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
The closest that director Garry Marshall
comes to a new twist is in the reality of the situations. Marshall is a fluff
entertainer (not that there is anything wrong with that), and it is surprising
how restrained the comedy is in Raising Helen. Slapstick is minimal, and
the laughs are generally of the smile and chuckle politely variety.
return, though, we get a movie in which the situations feel real. It seems the
characters are behaving reasonably. The traditional beginning for a movie such
as this is that the new kids arrive and the adult tries to live an unchanged life,
producing many comedic moments.
Here, Kate Hudson's Helen Harris understands
the responsibility she's accepting and intends to adjust to it. She just isn't
sure at first how to do that. For the most part, the story is surprisingly solid
in its conservative (small c, people) view of family and the responsibilities
associated with having children.
One can't help but feel that if you ignore
that the children were entrusted to the single sister instead of the well-established
married sister, that Dr. Laura herself wouldn't find too much to take issue with
(there is also the odd fact that the a-religious Helen hooks up with John Corbett's
Pastor Dan, and yet religion apparently plays no role in his life).
real surprise of the movie is just how adult it feels. This isn't a teenager's
fantasy of what life could be like, but almost a lecture to parents on the role
they need to be playing.
Respecting that adultness, however, doesn't make
it a good movie. Things run on way too long, particularly with a subplot involving
a new job at a car dealership that, ultimately, serves no purpose other than providing
a way to drive to New Jersey. Two staples of recent Disney comedy (also appearing
in this summer's Princess Diaries 2), Hector Elizondo and Larry Miller show up
in these scenes, and are thoroughly wasted.
Helen Mirren is also wasted
as Helen's strict child-hating modeling agency boss. She gets to wear a fright
wig but otherwise is only on screen for a few minutes total.
The kids are
also a mixed bag. The youngest, Sarah (played by Abigail Breslin), has the most
charm, but of course most of that is simply in being 7 years old. Her film (and
real life) brother Henry (Spencer Breslin) has been getting a lot of big roles
but he is pretty flat, not that he is given much to work with, and it is hard
to see him making the transition through puberty. Finally, Hayden Panettiere's
Audrey is the source of most of the trouble, being 14 and knowing everything and
Garry Marshall is a sentimental director and most of that seems
to be missing here. The death of the children's parents is glossed over and the
reactions of the children strangely muted. The growing attraction between Helen
and Pastor Dan is similarly flat.
In the end, you're left feeling that you
watched something that could really have happened, but also realizing that most
things that really happen are pretty boring.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
Kate Hudson has a lot of potential just
waiting to be squandered. She is full of charisma and it is to be hoped that her
career will regain the arc started with Almost Famous. To the degree that
Raising Helen works (and it has its moments) it is because of Hudson's
sheer determination to charm the audience into acceptance.
stuck with the matronly role of stereotypical suburban middle-class mom, ably
supports Hudson in this effort. By the end of things, if you've connected at all
with the story (an iffy prospect at best), then she transformed from a complete
square into a mom that everybody should have.
There is a surprisingly solid
core to the movie, but it just has no pace and not nearly enough surprises to
keep things interesting. This might be a good DVD movie, and it'll show your kids
just how lucky they are that you do things they hate.
If nothing else,
you should eventually view this movie just to see John Corbett say, I'm
a sexy man of God, with a straight face.
Helen theatergoers get extra special treat
There is one reason you
might want to go see Raising Helen in the theaters, and it is what will
be shown before the movie. Attached to Raising Helen is a new animated
short inspired by an idea from animation legend Joe Grant.
In a visual style
reminiscent of something out of Fantasia, Lorenzo is a Merrie Melodie-type
short with no vocals; just music and animation. The entire short is scored with
the Osvaldo Ruggiero's famous Bordoneo y 900 tango.
It's a dark
one, though. It tells the story of narcissistic restaurant cat who eats only the
best and taunts the street cats outside his window. He's particularly proud of
his big fluffy tail, and when he taunts one particular cat with it, he is cursed.
Finding himself with a living taila violent living tailthey
engage in a battle that combines martial arts with ballroom dancing that rises
to a crescendo of an ending that you'll find surprising for Disney animation.
animation is very well done, with a visual style that couldn't carry a feature,
but at five minutes, settles into a mental groove without becoming a strain.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
Though computer animated, the look is
purely classic. An advanced rendering system was used to maintain the broad brushstrokes
of original art, but allowed the three-dimensional manipulation of CGI. Roy Disney
executive produced, and the Paris (since closed) and Burbank animation studios
were heavily involved. Mike Gabriel directed the project after leaving Home
on the Range due to creative differences.
The mood is very dark on this
one. Don't assume that just because it is a Disney cartoon, it is safe for even
the youngest of children. It is, though, creative in a way we haven't seen from
Disney Animation in quite a while, and is worth seeking out. Unfortunately, there
is no guarantee that it will be included in the eventual Raising Helen
DVD, so going to the theater may be your best shot. You can always leave when
Thoughts, questions, or comments?
Contact Alex here.
Helen is a Touchstone Pictures release.
theatrical release: Friday, May 28, 2004.
by Garry Marshall.
Screenplay by Patrick Clifton
and Beth Rigazio.
Starring: Kate Hudson, John Corbett,
Joan Cusack, Hayden Panettiere, Spencer Breslin, and Abigail Breslin.
PG-13 for thematic issues involving teens.
time: 119 minutes.
Alex's Rating: 4 out of 10.
is a Walt Disney Pictures release.
release: Friday, May 28, 2004 (attached to Raising Helen).
by Mike Gabriel.
time: 5 minutes.
Alex's Rating: 7 out of 10.
Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted information junkie, Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.
Click here to contact Alex.