Raising Helen (2004)

Film review: Raising Helen (2004), directed by Garry Marshall

A dreadfully light-hearted poster for a not that light-hearted film.

In Raising Helen, we meet Helen Harris (Kate Hudson, with amazing hair). She’s young, pretty, has a career at a modelling agency and things are pretty good. She lives a happy and care-free single’s life while her two sisters are busy being mothers.

Disaster strikes – one of the sisters dies, along with her husband, and their three children are suddenly orphans. The parents left behind instructions on who should care for the children, and it’s not super-mum Jenny (Joan Cusack), but Helen. Helen, who doesn’t have a clue how to be a mum, nor does she really want to be one. But, she decides to give it a try. After all, her sister has entrusted her children into her care.

Going from a care-free single to a mother-of-three is not an easy change. There isn’t just the usual change of having a “new mum” for them, but also, they’re struggling to come to terms with having recently lost their parents. The children in question are Sarah who’s around five or six I think (Abigail Breslin), Henry who’s 10-12 or so (Spencer Breslin, Abigail’s real-life brother) and teenager Audrey (Hayden Panettiere, the Cheerleader in Heroes).

Helen lies her head off to try and get them into a good school, which happens to be attached to a Lutheran church, where we find the wonderful vicar, Pastor Dan (John Corbett). He tries to help the little family in the best way he can, and ends up falling in love with Helen – hence the sugary DVD cover.

Helen is clearly not a protestant, which leads to a scene that made me giggle: where he asks her out, and she is aghast, thinking he’s going to surrender his vows just because of her, and she really doesn’t want that on her conscience. He assures her that Lutheran priests are free to date, get married, have kids and even watch dirty films. Or at least the first three are perfectly sanctioned by his religion. Wow, if all vicars were as gorgeous and wonderful and non-preachy as him, there might be an incentive to go to church.

Anyway, she has to surrender her lovely flat in the Village in order to get a bigger place in a not-so-nice area. They try to get along, get the money to go around now that she no longer has any disposable income, and because of the children, she ends up losing her job. Life is fab. Or, as Helen puts it herself:

Hey, Pastor Dan? Mr. Self-righteous? I’m hanging on by a thread here. I lost my sister, my social life, my disposable income, my ability to fit into a size 2, and – this just in – my job. Pretty much the only two things that haven’t disappeared are my nicotine fits and a few pounds that have recently taken up residence on my ass. So forgive me if I’m not too thrilled about being lectured, in Queens, about being a lousy legal guardian to three kids who maybe shouldn’t have been given to me in the first place.

Speaking of quotes, here’s one that made me chuckle:

Sarah: “Does my nose boogie look green?”
Dominique: “Yes, sort of Prada green, not their best collection.”

Dominique is Helen’s boss, played by the ever so fab Helen Mirren. She doesn’t get an awful lot of screen time, but she puts the time she does get to good use.

This film could have been just a sweet romantic comedy, and even though the fact that the children have recently been orphaned perhaps isn’t as prominent as it should be, it’s still there, and you get reminded of it ever so often. How do you tackle a little girl who is crying on the first day of school because she can’t remember how to tie her shoelaces because her mummy had only just started to teach her? What to do about a boy who used to love playing sports but who won’t touch a basketball anymore? And – of course – what do you do with a rebellious teenager who runs away from the prom to a cheap motel with her “bad boy” boyfriend?

I found it touching. It’s sweet, a bit of romance, a bit of humour, a bit of general angst, but it’s the kind of film that you don’t just watch and it passes you by to be instantly forgotten, because it actually does have some depth, but I wouldn’t call it deep. It’s heart-warming.

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