Raising Helen (7/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

This could have been a wonderful picture. Itís severely weakened by two circumstances that seem to bollix many modern films. The first is that itís just too long. This is a cute story with good actors and a pretty good script. Unfortunately, Director Garry Marshall just couldnít cut some of the scenes he found so wonderful, and it goes on and on and on for two hours.

The second is that it has a perfectly miserable start. I would have walked out on the first half hour had it not been my job to stay. First we see Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) as an executive assistant to fashion maven Dominique (Helen Mirren). Sheís oh, so much smarter than everyone else. She knows how to get admitted to the toniest club in town in front of a long line. She knows how to get an unknown accepted as a top model. She knows everything. The worldís her oyster. Ugh!

Then she goes to a family birthday party and everyoneís just having so much fun. Thatís all it is is fun, fun, fun, and itís all due to Helen who knows just the right gift to bring and the right thing to say. Sheís wonnnnnnderful!

And itís all so phony. Itís all so unrealistic. Itís all so dumb. It insults the audience to think that anyone is gullible enough to buy all this slice of life rubbish. Itís not surprising that such stomach-turningly inane garbage is in this film because screenwriting credits go to Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, who also were responsible for The Prince and Me earlier this year. I liked The Prince and Me, a lot. But this is what I said at the time:

ďIn a scene at the beginning of the film where Paige and her friends are sitting in the local hangout, their conversation is disconcertingly contrived...This labored friendship pops up occasionally throughout the film as Paigeís girl friends encourage her romance with Eddie. These scenes are unrealistic, rob the story of its pace, and weaken what is an entertaining film.Ē

Amiel and Begler, while talented writers, need some lessons in writing slice of life scenes because what they have offered so far fail miserably.

Even though the idea is to set up the situation with Helen as a young swinger, divorced from the idea of family life, whatís needed are realistic, believable scenes in order to establish the bona fides of the character. So the movie was starting out with three strikes almost before it started. Fortunately, a relative of Mickey Owen was catching and he dropped the third strike. Because after the first 30 minutes, after Helen is awarded custody of he dead sisterís children, the scenes become realistic and the film becomes a charming, believable movie. The portrayals of what Helen has to deal with, and how she does, and how the responsibility changes her life, are interesting and entertaining.

Before this film, I had not yet bought into Kate Hudson, although she was good as a teenaged groupie in Almost Famous (2000). In Raising Helen, however, she is exceptional. Tied in with John Corbett, who is Academy Award material as her love interest, Pastor Dan Parker, and her wards, Audrey Davis (Hayden Panettiere), Henry (Spencer Breslin), and Sarah (Abigail Breslin), Hudson carries the movie.

There is an especially touching scene between Helen and Sarah as Sarah canít remember how her now dead mom taught her how to tie her shoelaces. Maybe it was played for laughs, but it brought tears to my eyes.

If only an editor torched the first half hour it would have made this into one of the better films of the year. My advice is to take your Ipod and listen to it for the first half hour. Then turn it off and enjoy the rest of the film, which is very good.

May 25, 2004

The End