Raising Helen

Raising Helen, 2004, 1 ¼ stars

Raising Helen  falls flat

From OrlandoCityBeat.com, May 27, 2004

Twenty-something New York fashion-model mogul Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) needs three kids about as much as we need a schmaltzy, formulaic flick about her raising them. Unfortunately, that is exactly what director Garry Marshall gives us in his new film, and Helen gets the better deal.

In Raising Helen, Hudson plays a career-minded, free-spirited executive at a Manhattan model agency whose single life is transformed when her sister and brother-in-law die in a car crash. In a contrived and wholly unbelievable turn of events, Helen, instead of her older and more motherly sister, Jenny (Joan Cusack), is awarded custody of her sister’s three children.

The death of the kids’ parents requires the movie to jump from light family comedy to drama and back again. And despite an honest moment of Cusack’s character agonizing over funeral details, it’s a genre roller coaster that Marshall can’t handle.

Helen is fired by her boss (Helen Mirren), moves into a middle-class apartment and is forced to change her outlook on life. She begins this journey reluctantly but slowly gains not just an appreciation for the world she has been thrown into, but a love for the kids. As the title suggests, the film is not so much about the three children as it is about Helen’s maturation. Predictably, we also get a romance thrown in for good measure, when Helen meets and slowly falls for the principal of her kids’ school (John Corbett).

Cusack is the one thing that keeps the overly long movie tolerable, and she does this only by using all her quirky charm as the overbearing older sister. Other token comic relief also pops up to distract from the script’s failings, most notably comedian Larry Miller as a gullible car buyer, Hector Elizondo, as the film’s one unconventional character (an honest used-car salesman), and even Paris Hilton as herself.

Marshall creates tension through Cusack’s characters’ feeling of betrayal over her dead sister’s choice of Helen to raise the kids, but this is simply one of the many subplots that go nowhere. And when the content of the custody letters is finally revealed, we found out that the lyrics to Devo’s “Whip It,” the sisters’ favorite song, were the main justification for awarding Helen the kids. This is deep stuff.

Maybe Marshall thought he was making another Mrs. Doubtfire, with death instead of divorce as the calamity of choice. But Hudson is no Robin Williams, and, despite some past flirtations with directorial maturity in Frankie and Johnny and Pretty Woman, Marshall is no Chris Columbus. Would anyone really want to be anyway?

The best part of Raising Helen is not the movie itself, but Lorenzo, a Disney animated short accompanying the film. This stylistic, surreal and refreshingly dark tale of a pompous kitty driven to distraction by a demon possessing its tail was created by Mike Gabriel, the director of Pocahontas, and produced by Roy Disney. Inspired by 96-year-old Joe Grant (the brains behind the Queen and the Wicked Witch in Walt Disney’s 1937 Snow White), the cartoon may not justify the admission, but it makes the overall experience more enjoyable.

“Not all women are made to be mothers,” Mirren’s character tells Helen, quoting Ibsen. Regrettably, not all directors are made to make movies about it, either.

© 2004 Orlando Sentinel / Tribune Publishing / MeierMovies, LLC

For more information about the movie, visit IMDB and Wikipedia.