Helen (Kate Hudson) is a rising young modelling agent at the swanky Manhattan offices of Dominique's (Helen Mirren) when her sister and her husband are killed in a car accident. Her sister in her will asks Helen to become instant mum to 15 year old Audrey (Hayedn Panettiere), 10 year old Henry (Spencer Breslin) and 5 year old Sarah (Abigail Breslin). Her older sister Jenny (Joan Cusack) is pregnant and a natural mum, hurt by her late sister's choice of mother for her children and ready with advice or criticism whenever Helen needs it - or not. But Helen does find support in Pastor Dan (John Corbett) at the school where she enrols the three kids. Helen finds it hard to go from high flying bachelor girl to a mum with tough decisions to make about a teenage girl, or a sensitive boy, and she doubts she'll ever make it.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A valid and useful story with plenty of lessons for modern women, Raising Helen is let down by a throw-away screenplay. It's made with all the bells and whistles of Hollywood - too many of them in fact, for its own good. Overdone, predictable and deflated by the pat ending, the film is manufactured. It loses its characters in a belch of plastic caricatures. The cliches are covered in schmalz and the structure is dull, derivative and dreary.
Having got that off my chest, I can also say that beneath all that wrapping are some fine things: Kate Hudson, John Corbett and Joan Cusack rise above the risible with credible performances despite everything. Hudson's Helen is vibrant and conflicted, her confusion all too tangible. Her experience at mothering a 5, 10, and 15 year old (yes, very neat age groupings) without the gradual learning process normally allowed parents, is a well observed trial by fire. It underlines the difficulties, albeit in a simplistic fashion, of bringing up children, even - or especially - when you love them.
Joan Cusack's Jenny is a natural mother, excruciatingly sensitive yet strong. And John Corbett (you'll remember him as the bloke from My Big Fat Greek Wedding) plays his Pastor with a well balanced decency without wimping out.
The contrivances and self indulgences remain, but the film, although too dragged out, has some poignant things to say; I wish it said them better.
Review by Louise Keller:
Dazzling us with her effervescent charm, Kate Hudson makes Garry Marshall's Raising Helen into a far more enjoyable encounter than its predictable comedy/drama elements may suggest. Marshall knows how to effect commerciality in a film - he's an expert at it. Not all his film may have achieved the status of the highly successful Pretty Woman which turned the Hollywood Hooker into Cinders, but Marshall knows how to market emotions.
Raising Helen is essentially a coming of age story, into which the central theme of single parenting is melded. The formula is probably more successful than the script, but with such a likeable cast, it is surprisingly easy to forgive the fact that the characters are superficial. The film's main flaw is in its inability to maximise on the 180 degree switch between comedy and drama.
As for the cast - there's no faulting it. Hudson is just so likeable. Spontaneously lovely, her charisma is evident everywhere as she carries every scene effortlessly. When we first meet Helen, it is evident that she lives and breathes her glamour-job as modelling agency executive assistant. The glamour doesn't stop at day's end either; Helen gets to take home the goodies, including the male talent. The fun and froth crash-lands into a reality check as she descends into the terrifying mire of unemployment and bewildering, single parenthood. The journey from self-centred fun-seeker to responsible adult is a well-observed one as Helen discovers the virtues of expressions like 'because I say so'. In the emotional stakes, it's Joan Cusack's complex older sister Jenny ("I read that celebrities knit, too") who comes up with the goods, and it is not until the film's end that the relevance of the film's title is revealed.
The romance between Helen and Pastor Dan is more entertaining than credible, offering offbeat opportunities for meaty one-liners and unexpectedly amusing situations. After all, Helen is the kinda gal who thinks that vespers is a kind of scooter. From My Big Fat Greek Wedding's vegan groom to new age musician in Serendipity, John Corbett offers plenty in his portrayal of the quirky pastor with the crooked smile.
Some of the ideas are overworked - including the fashion parade sequence that ends in disaster and some of the initial lessons in motherhood. The three youngsters who play the children at the story's epicentre are terrific, with special mention to Spencer Breslin (The Kid, The Cat in the Hat), whose dry delivery and distinctive presence is a stand out. There are some lovely touches, like Hector Elizondo's (uncredited) image-conscious used car salesman (sorry, prior-owned cars), Larry Miller's cocky car-client, Sakina Jaffrey's base-ball bat yielding neighbour and a memorable rendition of Happy Birthday to a toy Hippo in a swish New York restaurant.
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RAISING HELEN (PG)
CAST: Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Hayden Panettiere, Abigail Breslin, Spencer Breslin, Helen Mirren
PRODUCER: Ashok Armitraj, David Hoberman
DIRECTOR: Garry Matshall
SCRIPT: Jack Amiel &Michael Begler (story Patrick J. Clifton & Beth Rigazio)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Charles Minsky ASC
EDITOR: Bruce Green ACE, Tara Timpone
MUSIC: John Debney
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Steven Jordan
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 3, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
VIDEO RELEASE: November 10, 2004