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Sunday, October 16, 2011

A LITTLE HELP -- DVD review by porfle

A LITTLE HELP (2010) is one of those chick-flicks that isn't all that bad once you actually find yourself sitting down to watch it--usually against your will--although if you're like me you'll spend the entire running time wishing the Terminator would break the door down and start annihilating everybody.

Jenna Fischer ("The Office") plays Laura Pehlke, a recently-widowed young mom whose life is crashing down around her.  Jenna manages to make her mousey, indecisive character somewhat endearing enough so that we can stand her for an hour-and-a-half.  Some of her more amusing scenes have her working as a dental hygienist with a parrot constantly squawking over her shoulder.  The best ones involve Laura and her overweight, misfit son Dennis, played by Daniel Yelsky in his movie debut.

Yelsky is the best thing about A LITTLE HELP.  As Daniel, he's a painfully insecure little kid with the soul of a Borscht Belt comic.  Yelsky's delivery is priceless even when he's obviously reading his lines from cue cards--he's both deadpan funny and dramatically impressive in some crackling exchanges that allow him and Fischer to really have at each other (particularly the "You suck!" scene and the "9-11 is cooler" scene).  Even the part where they sing along with "Runaround Sue" in the car is bearable (along with the "bad date with the wrong guy" scenario, the "singing along to an oldie" thing seems to be a chick-flick staple).

Laura's life is taken over by her hellishly overbearing sister Kathy (Brooke Smith, the abducted girl from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) and meddling mom (Lesley Ann Warren), who coerce her into putting Daniel into a private school and suing her late husband's doctor for malpractice.  This takes place during a brow-beating "intervention" which is cringe-inducing for anyone who's experienced anything similar.  As the litigating lawyer, the great Kim Coates ("Chet" from THE LAST BOY SCOUT) gets a role he can really sink his teeth into, which is fun to watch. 

Daniel, meanwhile, has been trying to fit in at his new school by telling everyone his dad was a fireman hero on 9-11, a colossal lie that snowballs until Laura is caught up in it herself.  This yields both humor and ultimately devastation when they're both found out.  One theme of the film seems to be that lying is just bad all around because the truth always comes out.  I learned that way back in the Our Gang short "Don't Lie" but I guess you can never hear it enough times.  

Ron Leibman's deft comedy touch livens up his turn as Laura's dad, and Sam McMurray (RAISING ARIZONA) is good as an irreverent D.J. (Dion does a cameo as one of his interview subjects).  Chris O'Donnell's okay as Laura's husband, Bob, but he's only in the movie long enough to kick off and throw her life into chaos.  As Kathy's easygoing, henpecked husband Paul, Rob Benedict plays a likable enough character until he confesses that he's always been in love with Laura and starts getting creepy.  In fact, their entire subplot is kind of icky, and the fact that it's part of the emotional heart of the film gives off a "please don't go there" vibe that's averted by mere chance.

Writer-director Michael J. Weithorn, making his feature film debut here, handles the direction and editing well but Fischer and Yelsky's performances are the main reason the story isn't as lightweight as it could've been.  Things still tend to get a little cloying and overly contemplative whenever one of Jakob Dylan's soulful songs intrudes, but that's something you just have to expect when you're watching a film like this. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of a trailer and TV spot, a Jakob Dylan music video, and a number of thumbnail promotional interviews with cast and director.

The main message of A LITTLE HELP is the usual stand up for yourself, darkest before the dawn stuff.  We see the darkest but we don't see any of the dawn due to a somewhat abrupt ending, so we're left to assume Laura is on the verge of finally getting her head out of her ass.

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