I generally enjoy going to movies to escape the mundane of life through celluloid scripted comedy and fantastical storytelling and adventure. If the movie can’t give me the happy ending or an alternative universe, which I crave, I can still endure it and yes, even enjoy a tear inducing heartache of a drama if it is well penned and acted.
Unfortunately, A Little Help is none of the above.
This film is a snapshot of a dysfunctional Long Island family in the aftermath of a husband’s death. Jenna Fischer plays Laura whose marriage to Bob (played by Chris O’Donnell) is falling apart.
Laura drinks too much and Bob is always working. Laura is the pretty but screwed-up sister at odds with her sister Kathy (Brooke Smith) who is the less pretty but put-together domineering sister. Kathy is married to a man who tolerates her but doesn’t fully love her and she openly disapproves of his life choices.
All characters must learn to live with their continued litany of poor decisions which balloon out of control after Bob’s death. One of the biggest poor decisions occurs when Laura allows her 9th grade son, who is nervous about attending a new school, to lie by telling his friends that his dad was a firefighter who died in the attacks during 9-11.
What bothered me most about the film was that none of the characters were likeable.
Continuing with the notion that we are all flawed, this film demands we shine a lighthouse searchlight on every little facial pore and every little crack within the complexities of family dynamics. And through all the intense scrutiny, I could not find any redeeming qualities in anyone.
Even Laura and Kathy’s parents are screwed up. Their mom (Leslie Ann Warren) is extremely overbearing while their dad (Ron Leibman) meekly goes along with everything she demands.
The film is written and directed by Michael J. Weithorn, who is best known for his work on the “King of Queens” and “Family Ties” TV series. As an admirer of his work, I was surprised that none of the sweetness of his past characters came out through this film.
Yes, we are born into families and we have to live the sum of our life’s choices every day. Yes, the only thing we can do is to learn from each choice and to either change or live with the decisions we make. But yet, this family trudges through each day oblivious to being on the path to their impending destruction. And it hurts to watch.
Fischer was severely miss-cast as the drunken mom. Although she was rarely seen without a can of Budweiser, she performed unnervingly chipper and present, making it hard to suspend my belief at her performance (or lack thereof).
One standout performance, however, goes to Zach Page who played Kathy’s son, Kyle. He is a talented musician and I would definitely like to see and hear more of his work.
If you want to see a stunning portrayal of a breakdown of a marriage, I recommend staying in and renting Blue Valentine. Otherwise, feel free to check out this film that could use “A Little Help”. C-
A Little Help opens today July 29 at AMC Shirlington 7 in Arlington, VA and in select theaters nationwide. This film is Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use.