Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: A Little Help

Often tasteless study of a young widow strains viewer patience and exploits 9/11 to an obnoxious degree.

July 21, 2011

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1260928-Little_Help_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Widowhood does not sit pretty on dental hygienist Laura (Jenna Fischer), whose cheating, unavailable husband, Bob (Chris O’Donnell), suddenly drops dead from arrhythmia, leaving her with a difficult, alienated son, Dennis (Daniel Yelsky), and the rest of her family to deal with. This most unappetizing clan consists of her overbearing sister, Kathy (Brooke Smith), and mother (Lesley Ann Warren), a sportswriter father, Warren (Ron Leibman), more concerned with glorious baseball memories than her recent loss, and Kathy’s tightly wound husband, Paul (Rob Benedict), who has been secretly in love with Laura for years.

TV veteran Michael J. Weithorn (“Family Ties,” “The King of Queens”) makes his film debut as director and writer, and his roots are definitely showing. From the very beginning, in which we are informed that this takes place one year after 9/11, there is a pat glibness to his dialogue and exposition which keeps you at arm’s length from ever really becoming involved with the characters. His actors don’t get much of a chance to stretch beyond the proscribed limits of their sitcom-like, clichéd roles and ideas like having Dennis pretend that his father died a hero fireman at the World Trade Center (with Mom going along with the ruse) simply reek. Whether it’s having Warren urinate without closing the bathroom door at Bob’s funeral, Dennis getting a faux Twin Towers tattoo at a kiddie party, or having “The King of Queens” on the TV during Laura’s impulsive sex hook-up from hell, Weithorn’s taste level is questionable and off-putting.

Fischer tries for a wayward, spunky spirit of independence and basic decency, but is defeated by the material, which often makes her seem a total idiot. Owlishly pudgy Yelsky remains far too much the smoothly show-biz pro, with his studied reactions and delivery, to generate0 much sympathy. (There’s the spirit of Milton Berle somehow lurking in that little body.) Kim Coates really pushes things over the edge as a sleazy attorney hired to score Laura a big medical malpractice payday, making you wonder if the family found him in an ad on the subway. Leibman is a tiresome pain in the ass, while Warren, with nothing really to play except clueless bossiness, just looks the victim of one too many chemical peels.

Benedict strains for a kind of misunderstood pathos that might get to the more susceptible audience members. He plays a radio disc jockey, which somehow calls for a cameo appearance by pop singer Dion Di Mucci, in one of the film’s many “What the…?” moments (like that squawking parrot in the dentist’s office). Smith, always a strong and likeable presence even in an unsympathetic part, is more sympathetic than Fischer, while O’Donnell, who shows there is still an actor beneath those preternaturally pretty looks, provides virtually the only performance interest here.


Film Review: A Little Help

Often tasteless study of a young widow strains viewer patience and exploits 9/11 to an obnoxious degree.

July 21, 2011

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1260928-Little_Help_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Widowhood does not sit pretty on dental hygienist Laura (Jenna Fischer), whose cheating, unavailable husband, Bob (Chris O’Donnell), suddenly drops dead from arrhythmia, leaving her with a difficult, alienated son, Dennis (Daniel Yelsky), and the rest of her family to deal with. This most unappetizing clan consists of her overbearing sister, Kathy (Brooke Smith), and mother (Lesley Ann Warren), a sportswriter father, Warren (Ron Leibman), more concerned with glorious baseball memories than her recent loss, and Kathy’s tightly wound husband, Paul (Rob Benedict), who has been secretly in love with Laura for years.

TV veteran Michael J. Weithorn (“Family Ties,” “The King of Queens”) makes his film debut as director and writer, and his roots are definitely showing. From the very beginning, in which we are informed that this takes place one year after 9/11, there is a pat glibness to his dialogue and exposition which keeps you at arm’s length from ever really becoming involved with the characters. His actors don’t get much of a chance to stretch beyond the proscribed limits of their sitcom-like, clichéd roles and ideas like having Dennis pretend that his father died a hero fireman at the World Trade Center (with Mom going along with the ruse) simply reek. Whether it’s having Warren urinate without closing the bathroom door at Bob’s funeral, Dennis getting a faux Twin Towers tattoo at a kiddie party, or having “The King of Queens” on the TV during Laura’s impulsive sex hook-up from hell, Weithorn’s taste level is questionable and off-putting.

Fischer tries for a wayward, spunky spirit of independence and basic decency, but is defeated by the material, which often makes her seem a total idiot. Owlishly pudgy Yelsky remains far too much the smoothly show-biz pro, with his studied reactions and delivery, to generate0 much sympathy. (There’s the spirit of Milton Berle somehow lurking in that little body.) Kim Coates really pushes things over the edge as a sleazy attorney hired to score Laura a big medical malpractice payday, making you wonder if the family found him in an ad on the subway. Leibman is a tiresome pain in the ass, while Warren, with nothing really to play except clueless bossiness, just looks the victim of one too many chemical peels.

Benedict strains for a kind of misunderstood pathos that might get to the more susceptible audience members. He plays a radio disc jockey, which somehow calls for a cameo appearance by pop singer Dion Di Mucci, in one of the film’s many “What the…?” moments (like that squawking parrot in the dentist’s office). Smith, always a strong and likeable presence even in an unsympathetic part, is more sympathetic than Fischer, while O’Donnell, who shows there is still an actor beneath those preternaturally pretty looks, provides virtually the only performance interest here.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Happy Christmas
Film Review: Happy Christmas

Joe Swanberg's latest feature is a collection of strong individual scenes and performances that never quite finds its statement of purpose. More »

Very Good Girls
Film Review: Very Good Girls

More of a meandering, misguided path than a road to hell, Naomi Foner’s directing debut, starring Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen as 18-year-old BFFs, is similarly filled with good intentions. More »

The Kill Team
Film Review: The Kill Team

Marine Adam Winfield goes on trial in a case in which U.S. soldiers murdered innocent Afghanis. Strong subject marred by poor narrative choices. More »

Beneath
Film Review: Beneath

Claustrophobics beware: For the bulk of this tightly constructed thriller, the characters are trapped 600 feet underground in a dark, aging coal mine, backed into one tight space after another as they try to elude someone or something with murderous intentions. You have been warned. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Lucy
Film Review: Lucy

Drugs unleash the full potential of the brain with tragic results in Luc Besson's sci-fi adventure. More »

Magic in the Moonlight
Film Review: Magic in the Moonlight

Slight Woody Allen period romance is enlivened by appealing leads Colin Firth and Emma Stone. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here