A little over a year ago, my neighborhood was invaded by trucks. This caused quite a commotion amongst my community, since the trucks made it seemingly impossible to park. All the hub-ub was turned out to be because of a film crew shooting a movie. The film being shot? You guessed it: Raising Helen. Now after seeing this flick, was all that commotion at least worth it? I say yes, but then again, they let me be an extra.
Garry Marshall is known for having a few hits and misses on his résumé. Raising Helen is definitely one of them, both hit and also a little bit of a miss. The entire first act is atrocious and hard to follow. Kate Hudson appears to be basically doing the same thing she did in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days; clubbing, singing badly, working at a place with a keen sense of fashion, and all within the confines of the Big Apple. You’re supposed to get the impression that Helen (Hudson) is a party girl. It is only after a very uncomfortable dance sequence (to the tune of DEVO’s “Whip It”) that you think to yourself “this movie can’t get any worse”. Thankfully it doesn’t.
When Helen’s oldest sister (Huffman) dies due to an unfortunate car accident, Helen is bequeathed her three kids instead of Super-Mom Jenny (Cusack), her other sister. Soon after, Helen and kids move out of her huge suburban New Jersey house to a small little Downtown Manhattan apartment. After that doesn’t seem to quite work out, they then shift to a more accommodating place in Queens. Helen must then figure out a way to juggle parenthood with her professional life, which of course doesn’t quite work out so well, especially when her five year old niece Sarah (A. Breslin) hops up on the fashion runway to try and pet Paris Hilton’s “little doggy”. While trying to her best to juggle it all, Helen sparks up a relationship with her nephew and nieces’ school principal Pastor Dan (Corbett). At first, they were just friends hanging out. But after a spiritual hockey game and Pastor Dan proclaiming “I’m sexy”, they take it to the next level.
Hudson glows on the screen like her mother, Goldie Hawn, does. Even an annoying first act can’t stop you from warming up to her on her journey. Corbett plays that quiet cool he perfected on “Sex and the City” and in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The three children are perfect for what is needed from them; Abigail Breslin brings that same cutesy-wootsieness to this flick as she did in Signs while her real life brother Spencer does the heartbroken little boy thing. Then there’s Hayden Pennettiere as the rebellious teen. Pennettiere has a bright future ahead of her in this business. She plays the polar opposite of her tomboy-esque role in Joe Somebody and pretty damn well. But the highlight is two time Academy Award nominee Joan Cusack, who after falling victim to a horrid first act, totally redeems herself in the second and third by playing a textbook soccer Mom with total conviction. If she gets a third nod for this, I wouldn’t be surprised.
As a whole the movie is very good. It does what it sets out to do, showing how hard it is to be a single parent without being stereotypical. Not all single parent environments have the abusive evil stepparent or the rebellious kid who overdoses. It’s an uplifting chick flick. In the end, even though she gets the guy, it’s not as important as her relationship with the children. Hey, that’s what single parenting is all about: The kids.
Raising Helen isn’t the best film from Garry Marshall, nor is it the best performance from Kate Hudson, but it certainly is the best they’ve done in a while. On a related note, the film actually turned out to be a kind of postcard of my neighborhood. What little pieces they showed made it look like a really nice place to live. I’m giving it a positive review, even though they kicked me to the curb and left me on the cutting room floor. The bastards! Where’s my closeup?