Thursday, June 30, 2011

“A Little Help” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the comedy/drama “A Little Help”, starring Jenna Fischer from the hit TV sitcom “The Office” (as well as a bunch of familiar names & faces in much smaller roles). 



When a young woman suddenly becomes a widow, she’s forced to raise her pre-adolescent son all by herself – but will the influence of family and friends be more of a help or hindrance? 



As hard as Laura (Fischer) works at her job as a dental hygienist, her husband Bob (Chris O’Donnell) is also putting in plenty of extra hours this summer as a real estate agent – or so he would have everyone believe, at least.  Is he really racking up the overtime or is he merely cheating on Laura with a young woman from his office?  Either way, the stress from all of this activity appears to be getting to him and eventually, his heart gives out as he succumbs to arrythmia.  Suddenly finding herself alone, Laura must raise her 12 year old son Dennis as a single parent. 

Laura finds herself completely overwhelmed not only by her situation, but also, by her family, who manage to add even more stress to her life just when she needs it the least:  her imperious mother (Lesley Ann Warren) who disapproves of the way Laura’s raising her son; her nosy sister, who goes behind Laura’s back to hire a malpractice attorney to sue the doctor who treated her late husband; her stripling son Dennis, who tells new schoolmates that his father died saving office workers from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  Add to that her father (Ron Leibman), an ineffectual retiree who can only live in the past, boasting about decades-old career highlights as a sportswriter for The New York Post. 

Complicating matters is her brother-in-law Paul, who knew her in high school.  As his marriage to Laura’s sister begins to appear imperiled, both he and Laura turn to each other for solace in their misery.  Laura’s tenacious lawyer is seeking a big payday on what he believes to be an open-and-shut case – the only problem is that the woman with whom Bob may have been having an affair is being deposed by the physician’s defense attorney, which could significantly hamper Laura’s case.  On top of all this, Laura has been complicit in her son’s lie about his father, putting both at great risk of being discovered.  Amidst this tumult, will Laura find a way to get her life back on track? 



Prior to the screening, our instructor characterized this movie as a comedy, which set it up (in my mind, at least) as something that would be light and amusing – however, I think labeling this as a comedy is something of a mistake because there are actually quite a few serious moments and at times, I found it a little uncomfortable to watch.  This is not to say that the movie isn’t good – the writing and characters are quite complex – it’s just that I don’t believe my expectations were properly set and as a result, I got something rather different from what I thought we would be given. 

Normally, this might be somewhat of an irrelevant point, but I think it speaks to how the distribution company will market the movie.  If you look at the above poster and the trailer below, its advertising may be positioning it as a pure comedy, which I believe is somewhat misleading.  If you like movies with quirky characters in oddball situations, then there’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy “A Little Help” – however, know that quite a few of the situations aren’t exactly conducive to belly laughs; this especially includes the ending of the movie, which somewhat resolves the story in an arguably realistic way. 

After the screening, there were a couple of interviews, one with writer/direct Michael Weithorn and another with one of the movie’s actors, Daniel Yelsky, who played the adolescent son, Dennis.  Yelsky, now 14, appears both taller and thinner than he did in the movie, his voice deepening considerably in the two years that he’s had to mature since its filming.  For Weithorn, this was his first feature film.  He has an extensive background in television as a writer and show-runner (producer) of situation comedies; while he’s directed a few sitcom episodes throughout the years, this was the first time he’s ever written or directed more long-form material. 



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