About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Home
May 2004

By Julian Roman

Raising Helen
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Director: Garry Marshall
Producers: Ashok Amritraj & David Hoberman
Screenwriters: Jack Amiel & Michael Begler, based on a story by Patrick J. Clifton & Beth Rigazio
Director of Photography: Charles Minsky
Composer: John Debney
Cast: Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Hayden Panettiere, Spencer Breslin, Abigail Breslin, & Helen Mirren


Raising Helen is the same, dismal formula film that Hollywood cranks out year after year. It has no surprises, no character development, and worst of all, tries to manipulate your feelings with crappy melodrama. Here's the set-up; Kate Hudson stars as Helen Harris, a hip Manhattan girl that works in a modeling agency. She has two older sisters that live in the Jersey suburbs. Jenny (Joan Cusack) is the oldest, domineering sister with two kids and one on the way. Felicity Huffman is Lindsay, Helen's older sister, but a kindred spirit to Helen's fun loving ways. Lindsay and her husband die in a tragic car accident, leaving their three children (Hayden Panattiere, Spencer Breslin, and Abigail Breslin) as orphans.

Jenny and Helen are shocked to find out that Lindsay has left the sole custody of her children to Helen. She leaves behind letters to her sisters explaining her decision. The letters, in a seriously misused plot cue, play an important part in the film's ending. Helen is forced to relocate to Queens and take on the task of raising her sister's children. She enrolls them in a Lutheran parochial school, where she attracts the eye of the pastor, Principal Dan Parker(John Corbett). So, for those keeping score at home, we have the instant family, overbearing sister, religious love interest, and two letters that will set everything straight.

The obvious conflicts arise as Helen grapples with parenthood. The children have always seen her as their cool, fun-loving Aunt. Helen has trouble disciplining them. Hayden Panattiere's character of Audrey is emerging into babehood and wants to rebel. Jenny's got no faith in her mothering skills and Pastor Dan wants to give her private bible lessons. Now this story could have worked if the script was better written. It's not and that destroys the film. Everything unfurls exactly like it should, with cheesy cookie-cutter dialogue to propel the story. The most annoying aspect of the film is how the contrived dramatic moments are used. The film wants to make you cry, then laugh, then cry some more, then leave with a smile on your face. It achieves minor sniffles and fewer chuckles.

The only thing remotely interesting about the story is the children. They played their parts well, especially the Breslin's. Spencer is best know for his roles in Disney's The Kid and last year's horrifying Cat in the Hat. Abigail, his little sister, stole the show as Mel Gibson's water slurping daughter in Signs. They were funny and cute, pulling off the kids facing tragedy routine. The adults, Kate Hudson in particular, are just making the rounds and it shows. The material is just lackluster. Kate Hudson and Joan Cusack are good enough to handle meatier issues. The script just doesn't have anything substantive to offer.

Garry Marshall, the film's legendary comedic director, must have sleepwalked through this movie. He's mastered this genre. This is the same guy that made Beaches and Pretty Woman; sappy romantic comedies are his forte. He should have been able to make a much better movie. Raising Helen might find the female audience its being marketed to. I can't imagine they will walk away with any satisfaction from the film.