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Raising Helen
2004 - PG-13 - 119 Mins.
Director: Gary Marshall
Producer: Mario Iscovich
Written By: Patrick J. Clifton, Jack Amiel, Beth Rigazio, Michael Begler
Starring: Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Spencer and Abigail Breslin, Hayden Panettiere
Review by: Joe Rickey

This is rather awkward.
A Garry Marshall (‘Pretty Woman, ‘Runaway Bride’) directed romantic comedy about motherhood and new responsibility; ‘Raising Helen’ is practically the definition of a run-of-the-mill production. It contains very little in the way of surprising plot developments and instead illustrates an air of contentment as it progresses from predictable plot point to predictable plot point until it reaches an ending that can only be called a forgone conclusion for a film made in the romantic comedy mold that filmmakers continue to go to time and time again; in this case Garry Marshall, a man who should have devised a new way of telling these sorts of stories by now.

Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) is a free-spirited party girl that is loving the single life that she lives in which she is only responsible for herself. That all changes when her sister dies in a car crash along with her husband. You see, Helen’s sister left Helen the custody of her three children, a precocious young girl, a downbeat young boy, and a rebellious teenage daughter. Now Helen must learn to cope with her new responsibilities, thankfully with the help of her other sister, Jenny (Joan Cusack) along with a budding relationship with a Pastor, played by John Corbett.

‘Raising Helen’ is an attempt by director Marshall to produce another one of his signature romantic comedies but the problem is that the film really isn’t set up to be a comedy of any kind other than a dark comedy; yet he tries to make the film an out and out mainstream comedy. The situation, where the deaths of two people are supposed to pave the way for comedy, just doesn’t work because people dying is simply not funny and makes the coming comedic bits seem out of place. The film is further hampered by the fact that the more serious scenes are, for the most part, mishandled because of the sub par performances by the grieving children. Spencer Breslin is the worst offender, as after ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and now this film, he is affirming that he is one child actor with little in the way of talent, as he has one definable personality trait: that of a constantly whiny individual who pouts endlessly if he doesn’t get his way and is overly phony during his scenes where he is supposed to portray a happy kid. The oldest child played by Hayden Panettiere (‘Remember the Titans’) fares a little better if only because she obviously possesses more talent than that of Spencer. The youngest of the three children, played by Abigail Breslin (Yes, Spencer’s real-life sister) is one-note in her performance but still comes across as the most likable of the three children.

In the film’s lead role, Kate Hudson is fine but rather unremarkable, as she is not given the best material to work with. Joan Cusack, however, is able to rise above lackluster writing to give what is easily the film’s best performance, as the overly protective sister of Hudson who gets the film’s best scene when she scolds the one-track mind of Panettiere’s boyfriend, who had taken his girl to a motel on Prom night for who knows what, but was confronted by Cusack’s Jenny before anything could happen.

If one is looking for an upbeat romantic comedy, look elsewhere because ‘Raising Helen’, despite what Disney would like you to believe, isn’t a light-hearted film. Instead, it is a lackluster attempt at melding comedy with drama that doesn’t work because of the schizophrenic way in which director Gary Marshall handles the material.

Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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