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Raising Helen Review

By Shawn McKenzie 05/29/2004

Gary Marshall has made some of the most successful chick flicks of our time.  From the chick flick that most guys love to hate, Beaches, to the one that many guys like, Pretty Woman, he has hit gold more often than not.  He even had a great one for little girls with The Princess Diaries.  Even though the trailer didn’t impress me, I had good hopes for Raising Helen.  I like Marshall and I like Kate Hudson.  While the movie wasn’t bad, it wasn’t anything unique either.


Helen Harris (Hudson) is a freewheeling party girl who has her dream job of working for Dominique (Helen Mirren) at the Dominique Modeling Agency in Manhattan.  As her personal assistant, she holds a lot of influence over the woman, which sometimes leads her to help friends like Tinka (Shakara Ledard), an up-and-coming model.  She’s also dating a male model named Devon (Ethan Browne) and goes out dancing every night.  Her family thinks that she is a little too carefree, especially her uptight pregnant sister Jenny Portman (Joan Cusack.)  One day, during a business lunch, she gets a call on her cell that her other sister Lindsay Davis (Felicity Huffman), who also thought she was a little too freewheeling but was more tolerant and fun than Jenny, and her husband Paul (Sean O’Bryan) were killed in a car accident.  Helen and Jenny both expected that the couple’s three kids, 15-year-old Audrey (Hayden Panettiere), 10-year-old Henry (Spencer Breslin), and 5-year-old Sarah (Abigail Breslin), would go to Jenny and her husband Ed (Kevin Kilner), but they are shocked when the will dictates that the kids were to go to Helen.  They figured that since Jenny already had two kids, Jasmine (Catherine Tayrien) and Oliver (Evan Sabara), she was the natural choice to be a parent, but in some letters left to the sisters by Lindsey, her decision is explained to them (you don’t hear the contents of the letters until later in the movie.)  Helen decides to take on the challenge, despite Jenny’s objections, and she moves from Manhattan to Queens to be able to afford a larger apartment, which puts tension on her work and her relationship with Jenny.  In fact, it puts so much of a strain on her job with Dominique that she is let go.  She gets a job as a secretary and loudspeaker announcer at Massey Motors, working for Mickey Massey (Hector Elizondo), and finds that she is a natural at the used car sales business.  As her wild life becomes tamer while raising the kids, she becomes involved with Pastor Dan Parker (John Corbett), the handsome principal at the kids’ new Lutheran school.  Her new challenges involve making sure that Audrey doesn’t get too wild with her new boyfriend BZ (Michael Esparza), that Henry doesn’t find out that his beloved turtle has died, and that Sarah knows how to tie her shoes.  She gets a little help from Nilma Prasad (Sakina Jaffrey), her Indian neighbor who was already a mom, and who was not afraid to use a baseball bat to intimidate the punks who hang around Audrey.  Her husband Ravi (Bernard White) was the one who helped her get the job at Massey Motors.  With the possibility of getting her old job back, she must decide if she is cut out for motherhood.


Hudson is very impressive for a 25-year-old actress.  She was believable in showing a transition from wild child to responsible parent.  The rest of the cast varies in degrees of quality.  Cusack was a natural to play Jenny, having already played an uptight principal in last year’s School of Rock.  Corbett was good as the pastor, but he was underused.  Both of the Breslin siblings were very annoying as usual, with Spenser remaining one of my least favorite child actors in movies today.


The thing that makes Marshall chick flicks good is that they usually take a tired formula and make them entertaining.  Pretty Woman was the Cinderella story with a modern spin.  Runaway Bride was sort of a twist on The Taming of the ShrewThe Princess Diaries was an actual believable update of The Ugly Duckling story (as opposed to movies like 10 Things I Hate About You or Never Been Kissed, where they took an already hot woman and made her hotter, a movie cliché so hilariously spoofed in Not Another Teen Movie.)  This movie felt like it was treading on familiar ground.  Maybe it’s because it so closely followed another similar movie from last year called Uptown Girls that had a similar story (a kid who tames a party girl), but this one didn’t seem fresh at all.

I suppose Raising Helen is a good alternative to the action flicks out right now, but as a fan of Marshall chick flicks, I was disappointed.  It had its cute points, and Hudson continues to impress me, but I wasn’t that crazy about this one.  Fortunately, Marshall has a long career of successes, so a couple of flops won’t hurt him.

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