Raising Helen review by Mike Long

When I took a Film Criticism course in college, the instructor attempted to teach the students how to "read" a film. That is, every movie has a message that is hidden beneath the story and that only the most astute viewers will spot it. This only lead to students spouting the most obtuse theories that they could think of...and the instructor loved it. As for myself, I rarely subscribe to this idea, as I feel that most movies are made purely for entertainment value and don't have any hidden messages. That isn't the case with Raising Helen, dramedy which has a very pointed message for Americans.

Kate Hudson stars in Raising Helen as Helen Harris, a carefree young woman who lives in Manhattan. Helen works as an executive assistant at a modeling agency and spends her life attending parties and fashion shows and jet-setting around the world. Yet, she is still close to her sisters, Jenny (Joan Cusack) and Lindsay (Felicity Huffman), who live in New Jersey with their families. When Lindsay and her husband are killed in an auto accident, Helen is given custody of her three children -- Audrey (Hayden Panettiere), Henry (Spencer Breslin), and Sarah (Abigail Breslin) -- much to the shock of Jenny, who is already an established mom. Helen is shocked by the change as well, but she wants to be true to Lindsay's wishes and moves, with the kids, to an apartment in Queens. She enrolls the kids in a local Lutheran school and meets Pastor Dan (John Corbett), whom she finds oddly attractive. As Helen attempts to make this new life work, she faces many challenges and learns that she must make sacrifices and rely on others to get by.

Garry Marshall has made a career of making films that are truly benign and Raising Helen may be his blandest yet. While some of his movies, such as The Princess Diaries have a charming quirkiness to them, Raising Helen is strictly by the numbers and offers nothing new. The film is similar in many ways to Baby Boom and Jersey Girl, as a successful New York business-person is forced to make dramatic changes in their lives due to a new family. But, Kate Hudson can't compare to Diane Keaton or Ben Affleck and seems unable to carry this movie. And although Jersey Girl was a disappointment as a Kevin Smith film, it had a charm and with which are sorely lacking in Raising Helen.

Besides the fact that Raising Helen can't live up to its predecessors, it's rife with many other problems. For one, the script is very predictable and holds no surprises. As noted above, Kate Hudson can't carry the film. She doesn't do well with either the drama or comedy here. I don't know who's determined to make her a star, but I wish that they'd give up. She was good in Almost Famous, now move on. There are several plot-holes in the film, the most glaring being Helen's financial situation. Given the size of Lindsay's house and her apparent preparedness with her will, wouldn't she and her husband have had not only life insurance, but a lot of it? This is never mentioned, as it would have prevented Helen from having to move to a more humble neighborhood. Which brings me to the message of the film. As with the recent remake Cheaper by the Dozen, Raising Helen tells the viewer that you'll be much happier if you are poor and have a large family. If anyone can tell me about the merits of being poor, it's the people in Hollywood. At two hours, Raising Helen wears out its welcome very quickly, proving to be another cookie-cutter film that you'll quickly forget.

Raising Helen is willed to DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The film is coming to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is clear, and for the most part, sharp, although it is noticeably soft at times. The colors look good, as Marshall has shot the film in a very natural style. The transfer shows some light artifacting at times, but otherwise the image is acceptable. The DVD's Dolgy Digital 5.1 audio is acceptable as well, but not spectacular. For the most part, the sound comes from the center and front channels. The only time that the rear speakers get in on the action is for music cues or street noise. The subwoofer is silent save for club music.

The Raising Helen DVD has a few extras. There is an audio commentary with director Gary Marshall, and writers Beth Rigazio, Michael Begler, and Jack Amiel. If you've ever heard one of Marshall's commentaries, then you know how he can ramble and he does so here, although having other people in the room often keeps him in check. This quartet discusses the story of the film while Marshall goes into detail talking about the locations and the actors. The DVD contains 5 brief deleted scenes. The Deleted Scenes menu screen has an introduction from Marshall and he adds short intros to each scene. The extras are rounded out by a 5-minute blooper reel and a music video from Liz Phair (!) for the song "Extraordinary".

3 out of 10 Jackasses

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