Sunday, July 24, 2011

Movie with Abe: A Little Help

A Little Help
Directed by Michael J. Weithorn
Released July 22, 2011

Over the past few years, NBC’s television show “The Office” has helped to launch the film careers of a number of its actors. Understandably, Steve Carell had lead roles from the start of the show and has seen great success. Recently, Ed Helms and John Krasinski have had main parts in hits like “Cedar Rapids” and “Away We Go.” Others, like Rainn Wilson, have produced mixed results. Jenna Fischer, previously relegated to supporting roles in films like “Walk Hard,” “Solitary Man,” and “Hall Pass,” now gets the chance to take on a starring role of her own, and the title couldn’t be any more fitting for describing what the film could really use.

“A Little Help” is, simply summarized, a story about Laura (Fischer), a screw-up alcoholic wife, who has enormous trouble getting her life in order while simultaneously taking care of her bratty son Dennis (Daniel Yelsky) after the untimely death of her husband Bob (Chris O’Donnell). In one sense, it’s a perfectly generic film, but it’s quickly complicated when Dennis tells his friends at a new school that his father was a fireman killed on September 11th instead of the victim of a heart attack, and a baffled Laura is hopeless to do anything but go along with the deception.

“A Little Help” is a frequently uncomfortable film that doesn’t have enough positive anchors for any viewer to become sympathetic towards Laura or any of the other characters. In fact, there’s only one truly strong character, and performance, in the film, and that’s Paul (Rob Benedict of CBS' short-lived "Threshold"), who is unhappily married to the cruel, controlling Kathy (Brooke Smith) and would much rather be with her sister, Laura. He delivers an honest, heartfelt performance, and the character is the lone sad sack for which empathy is actually possible. Laura hardly seems motivated to do anything to put her life back on track, and her character is inconsistent at best.

There are moments of Fischer’s performance that shine, but overall, it’s an uneven portrayal that detracts from the credibility of the character. Fischer seems to let down her guard and either lose or gain confidence on a whim, which doesn’t track with who Laura seems to be. The most peculiar bit of casting is Kim Coates, best known as criminal biker Tig from “Sons of Anarchy,” as Laura’s lawyer Mel Kaminsky, which also happens to be Mel Brooks’ real name. Unlike Fischer, he’s not uncomfortable in his own skin, but rather far too desperate to be sleazy and memorable. “A Little Help” is just a subpar movie that doesn’t really have anything to get it started, lacking in the areas of both meaning and motivation.


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