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Movie Review: ‘A Little Help’

July 22, 2011

Jenna Fischer stars in this dramedy about an unhappily wed woman who suddenly finds her entire world turned upside down, and has to navigate the choppy waters of her new life.  Fischer plays Laura, a Dental Hygienist with a louse of a husband, a resentful son and the family from hell. She copes by smoking and pounding beers every chance she gets. You really can’t blame her. She lives a miserable existence, and serves as a surrogate punching bag for her acerbic mother (Lesley Ann Warren) and sister (Brooke Smith). They are truly awful.

Suddenly finding herself a single mom, Laura must contend with lawsuits, her controlling family, and her grieving son who tells his schoolmates that his father died in 9/11 (the film takes place shortly after 9/11) to gain sympathy and popularity. Laura lets the lie slide because her son is overweight and has difficulty fitting in. This of course leads to nothing good.

During the course of the movie, Laura gains her independence on her own terms, and learns how to become a better mother in the process. There isn’t a whole lot that happens in the film, it’s more of a glimpse into this dysfunctional family and how they interact. The movie is funny, touching, and ultimately uplifting. Whether or not you enjoy it will depend on whether you can tolerate unlikable characters. Initially even Laura is off-putting.

Jenna Fischer carries the film quite well, supported by a strong cast.  It’s nice to see her show some range in a dramatic role. Brooke Smith is particularly good as Laura’s witchy, bitchy sister Kathy who clearly harbors ill feelings because Laura got the looks in the family.  Rob Benedict plays Kathy’s henpecked husband, who shares a sweet bond with Laura and serves as her only true support in the family. Kim Coates is wonderfully slimy as a pompous ambulance-chasing lawyer thrust upon Laura by Kathy.

A Little Help is the first feature film from television director Michael J. Weithorn, and he directs with a subtle, soft touch. The trouble with the film is that it is so nondescript, it blends in with dozens of other similar films; it’s a little bland. I didn’t dislike it, but I wouldn’t recommend rushing to the theater unless you are a big Jenna Fischer fan. This one can wait for a rental.

Rating 2.5/5




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