They say that it isn’t adults who create children; it’s children who create adults. And they’re right.
This theme resonates deeply with us and has inspired many, many movies, going back before the days of Shirley Temple. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s a good story, deeply rooted within all of us. So as each version comes along, we don’t need any surprises in the plot. All we ask is that there be something fresh and true about the way that it is told.
This latest take on the story is not a romantic comedy, as suggested by the trailers and commercials. It is more of a light drama with some comic and tragic moments, as a fashionable young woman finds herself the guardian for her late sister’s three children.
It has a solid script and a strong cast led by the deliciously twinkly Kate Hudson as Helen, with Helen Mirrin as her boss, Joan Cusack and Felicity Huffman as her sisters, Sakina Jaffrey as one tough bat-wielding mother of a neighbor, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s John Corbett providing guidance, support, and some romantic interest as the Lutheran pastor who is principal of the school. That puts it way ahead of drek like Cop and a Half and Curly Sue if not up to the level of some of Shirley Temple’s classics.
Hudson plays Helen, a young woman who thinks she has everything she wants, including a glamorous job in a modeling agency that gives her access to the hottest clubs and the prettiest people. She gets to go to parties and wear chic clothes and be the cool aunt to her sisters’ children, the fun one who thinks that fake IDs are great and shows that you never really have to grow up.
But then Helen’s sister and brother-in-law are killed in an accident and it turns out that they left their three children not to the older, stable, potpourri-loving earth mother sister Jenny (Joan Cusack) but to the never-has-had-to-think-about-anyone-but-herself-for-more-than-a-minute Helen.
Helen is willing, if a bit shell-shocked. But for the first time she has taken on some problems that can’t be solved with a dazzling smile or a fabulous outfit. The three children show her how messy, exhausting, painful, more exhausting, expensive, scary, difficult, and then even more exhausting life can be. She will think of it as an unbearable burden. She will have to leave Manhattan for Brooklyn and take time from her job for an emergency involving shoelace-tying. She will make mistakes and let people down. She will worry that she is not up to the challenge. And she will get a chance to find out whether she is.
Hudson is fine as Helen in the early scenes, enjoying her own deliciousness as she skims along on top of life like a skipping stone on the waves. She is mistress of her universe, flirting a little to cross the velvet rope, scamming a little to promote a new model, showing up late to a family party but being forgiven because she brings such a witty and thoughtful present and because she is just so adorable.
That’s what we expect from the adorable Hudson after all. What’s more fun to watch here is the way Hudson holds up as Helen’s world falls apart around her. When 15-year-old Audrey (Hayden Panettiere) accuses Helen of not remembering what it feels like to be young, listen to Hudson’s layered reading of Helen’s response: “Of course I remember. It was last Wednesday.”
Helen thinks that vespers is a kind of motorcycle and Lutheran pastors must be celibate, but her real problem is that she is just not sure she can give or deserve the kind of affection required by the children and by the pastor. Helen must also be willing not to be completely loved every single second. Hudson shows us as an actress that is a lesson she has already learned.
Parents should know that the movie has some strong language. Characters drink and smoke. Helen’s smoking, imitated by one of the children, is evidence of her carefree lifestyle; we see her wearing a nicotine patch after she has to begin to be more responsible. Similarly, as the fun aunt she approves of a fake ID for an underage girl; as the parent, she does not. And before she has the children, she has casual sex, but afterward she is ready for a more complete relationship. An underage couple plan to have sex but are stopped in time. Some members of the audience will find the movie’s portrayal of public school to be unfair. A strength of the movie is friendship between diverse characters.
Families who see this movie should talk about how they think about plans to care for children in case of tragedy. Why did the children’s parents choose Helen instead of Jenny?
There are many, many movies about the influence of a child on a superficial, self-absorbed — in other words childish — adult. Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Baby Boom, Three Men and a Baby, and a more serious look at a similar theme in the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer.