Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Raising Helen

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Profanity:Brief strong language
Nudity/Sex:Sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations
Alcohol/Drugs:Characters smoke and drink
Violence/Scariness:Tense and sad moments
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters
Movie Release Date:2004

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.



  • Lauri

    I just saw this last week. I enjoyed it. It wasnt’ like Helen was saddled with kids who she didn’t want or who hated her. They loved each other but were all grieving and unsure. Her older sister didn’t try to sue for custody. She acted in turns the doubting and supportive sister. The family wasn’t dysfunctional as most movies seem to think. OK, and I did find it funny when the minister explains the difference between a Catholic priest and a Lutheran pastor. And so seldom do we see someone devoutly religious, funny, and handsome in a movie.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Lauri — agreed on all counts. Thanks for a very insightful comment.

Previous Posts

"Guardian of the Galaxy's" Awesome Mixtape
One of the many pleasures of "Guardians of the Galaxy," opening this week, is the soundtrack featuring some 70's classics from an "Awesome Mixtape" played by Peter "Star Lord" Quill (Chris Pratt).  Here are some of the highlights. "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede [youtube]http://www.youtub

posted 8:00:21am Jul. 27, 2014 | read full post »

Comic-Con 2014: Day 2
Day 2 of Comic-Con included: an interview with "Sharknado" and "Sharknado 2" screenwriter Thunder Levin, a buggy lunch with Boxtrolls, press events with the directors and casts of four films, and appearing on the Rotten Tomatoes panel, where each attendee was given a paddle with a ripe tomato on on

posted 10:04:47pm Jul. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Thank You! This Site is 19 Years Old This Week!
It seems like yesterday, but it was 19 years ago this week that I first began writing reviews online as The Movie Mom®.  Anyone remember Prodigy?  The first appearance of my website was via the Sears-owned online service, so long ago it does not even turn up in Wayback searches.  At the time, we

posted 3:59:49pm Jul. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Dan Cohen of "Alive Inside"
Dan Cohen is the gifted and passionately committed man who transforms the lives of people with dementia and other severely debilitating diseases.  He is featured in the documentary "Alive Inside." He is the founder of Music and Memory, which provides resources to help bring these programs to peopl

posted 8:00:36am Jul. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Contest: "Lullaby" -- Family Drama With Amy Adams, Richard Jenkins, and Garrett Hedlund
Garrett Hedlund stars as Jonathan in this uneven but moving drama about a family facing the loss of a husband and father. The performances are excellent, especially Richard Jenkins as the father and "Downton Abbey's" Jessica Brown Findlay as Jonathan's sister. I have two copies of the DVD to give

posted 3:50:33pm Jul. 25, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.