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Raising Helen

Directed by Garry Marshall. Starring Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Hayden Panettiere, Spencer Breslin, Abigail Breslin, Helen Mirren. (2004, PG-13, 119 min.)

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 28, 2004

Raising Helen High fashion has never been my strong point, but even someone as clueless about couture as I am knows that the goofy, alpine-ready Ugg boots Kate Hudson kickingly sports in Raising Helen’s print ads are, like, so last season. Here I might insert a weak joke about the "ugh" sensation both the boots and the movie inspire – weak, to be sure, and also lacking utterly in energy and ingenuity – but then I’m merely holding myself to the same standards of excellence as Hudson’s latest film. After her promising notice in Almost Famous, the blond and beamy Hudson was anointed America’s sweetheart, but following her string of critical and/or commercial flops (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Alex & Emma), I’m wondering if it’s too late to ask for the crown back. There’s nothing especially offensive about the actress; if anything, it’s that lack of offense, her overwhelmingly benign vibe, that has become increasingly repugnant with every picture she puts out. Hudson doesn’t so much act as smile, grin, giggle, and beam her way through a film, with the occasional soft shake of her perfect golden curls doing most of the dramatic heavy lifting. More of the same here in Garry Marshall’s cuddle-bunny story of a self-absorbed Manhattan talent agent named Helen (Hudson) who has to grow up fast when her beloved sister dies in an accident and leaves Helen custody of her three children. Helen’s other sister, Jenny, already a mother and a real stick in the mud, is played by Joan Cusack, an uproariously funny actress who is reduced to a puddle of shrewish, nagging mom-ness; the less said about the multiple indignities she suffers in this harridan role the better. Besides, this movie isn’t really about Jenny, or the three now-orphaned children wading through tremendous grief – it’s about Helen realizing she can’t go clubbing anymore. It’s tough at first, but it helps that the principal of the kids' new school is hunky Pastor Dan (Corbett), who quickly takes to wooing Helen. They’re a match made in heaven, of course; I couldn’t think of a more perfect partner in vanilla-pudding appeal for Hudson than the soft, saintly John Corbett (coming off similarly soft, saintly turns in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Sex and the City). He’s there to help guide Helen through the many and daunting problems of being a new mom, but there’s never really any danger that Helen won’t overcome them all with a faint shake of her curls and always that damn plucky smile. At the risk of repeating myself: ugh. But, as Pastor Dan might point out, every dark cloud has its silver lining, and for Raising Helen, it’s "Lorenzo," the animated short that precedes the film. Mike Gabriel’s deliriously inventive cartoon tells the story of a fat, preening cat who is cursed and finds its tail has taken on a life of its own – a life that cat resolves to kill, in increasingly morbid ways (including strangulation and electrocution). To the tune of an accordion tango, the delightful "Lorenzo" wordlessly entertains in minutes more than Raising Helen can muster in its plodding two hours.
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