*** (out of 5)
May 28, 2004
Kate Hudson as HELEN HARRIS
John Corbett as PASTOR DAN PARKER
Joan Cusack as JENNY PORTMAN
Hayden Panettiere as AUDREY DAVIS
Spencer Breslin as HENRY DAVIS
Abigail Breslin as SARAH DAVIS
Helen Mirren as DOMINIQUE
Directed by: Garry Marshall
BY KEVIN CARR
After several weekends of testosterone ruling the multiplexes, Touchstone Pictures has seen fit to release “Raising Helen” to give the female demographic a choice at the theaters. And there’s nothing quite like the tragic, untimely death to start off a summer chick flick.
“Raising Helen” tells the story of Helen Harris, a trendy Manhattan socialite working as a rep for supermodels. One day, she learns that her sister and brother-in-law are killed in a car crash, leaving the three children in the family without parents. Although Helen’s other sister Jenny (Joan Cusack) already has two children, Helen is chosen as the guardian of the orphans. Helen must deal with the challenges of working and living in the city while being a new mother of three.
One of the things that struck me while watching this film was how similar the plot was to “Jersey Girl.” In fact, there are some scenes that seem right out of Kevin Smith’s latest flick. The only thing missing in this film is discussions about pornography and a healthy dose of “the F word.” But that’s not Garry Marshall’s style.
Marshall does a decent job with this film, keeping everything “nice” as you find in most of his movies. It’s not a sacchariney sweet as “The Princess Diaries,” but it’s also not as smooth and well thought out as “Pretty Woman.” The supporting cast is filled with plenty of Garry Marshall regulars, including Larry Miller in a nice cameo.
I was a little disappointed to see Spencer Breslin’s talent wasted in this film. He plays Henry, the middle child between two girls. Breslin’s knack isn’t necessarily for heavy drama, and he kind of blends in the background here. Of course, this was not exactly the vehicle to serve his manic style best, but the kid has a lot of talent. Heck, he was really the only funny thing in last year’s dreadful “The Cat in the Hat.”
I don’t quite see the public’s love affair with John Corbett. He’s a decent actor at best. In some ways, he’s like a low-rent Luke Wilson who has lucked into some pretty high profile projects like “Sex in the City” and “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding.” But as a star, he’s not all that bright. (I never watched his FX show “Lucky,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if his lackluster screen presence had anything to do with its untimely demise.)
In “Raising Helen,” John Corbett plays the same type of character he has before – the all-too-perfect sensitive guy who never really gets upset, has no flaws and always has the right thing to say. His part is presented with all the weakness of Norah Ephron’s wishy-washy boyfriend roles in “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”
But fortunately for “Raising Helen,” John Corbett isn’t the star. Kate Hudson is. Now, I’ve been a fan of Kate Hudson for years. Forget “Almost Famous.” I’ve had a thing for Kate Hudson ever since I saw her in “200 Cigarettes.” Although it’s still hard to get past the fact that this was nothing more than a Kate Hudson vehicle. Like her last flop “Alex and Emma,” this movie wasn’t as strong as its star.
But here’s the real reason to get out to watch this film. At the head of every print, Disney has tacked on a brand new cartoon, “Lorenzo.” This animated short tells the story of a fat, blue cat in France who lives the high life while watching the alley cats starve outside. After tormenting the wrong alley cat, Lorenzo’s tail is possessed, sending him into a frenzied romp through the streets.
“Lorenzo” is the perfect mix between old fashioned cartoon slapstick and artistic flavor. It is animated in a style I haven’t seen since the 1960s before studios substituted avante garde imagery for lazy animation. Told without dialogue and set to a sharp musical score, “Lorenzo” is the gem of “Raising Helen.”
“Lorenzo” reminds me of last year’s “Final Flight of the Osiris” short film that was tacked onto the head of all “Dreamcatcher” prints. In many ways, it was worth the price of admission to see the “Osiris” short and walk out before the putrid “Dreamcatcher.” (Although, I wouldn’t walk out of “Raising Helen.” It’s still a decent movie and serve as a nice date with the wife.)
Hopefully, “Lorenzo” will spark the interest for studios to produce and release animated shorts with their films. We can only hope. After all, this is Disney. Isn’t that what they’re famous for?