It was four years ago that Kate Hudson delivered her stunning, Oscar-worthy performance as Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. The moment where Hudson managed a tear of humiliation while totally smiling left me thinking cinema had its best new actress.
Hudson has been in seven movies since then, and they’re all pretty bad. That tally includes her latest, Raising Helen, directed by the dreaded Gary Marshall. While this director has managed a couple of decent ones over the span of his career, like Nothing in Common with Tom Hanks and The Flamingo Kid with Matt Dillon, he usually commits crimes against the senses. Pretty Woman, Exit to Eden and, God help us all, Beaches represent the ultimate in sentimental pap and painfully obvious comedy.
Raising Helen contains some of that sentimental goo that Marshall can’t help but shepherd, yet that’s not its major problem. Unlike some of his obnoxious, over-the-top past efforts, this film is distinct in that it’s just very dull. The potentially charismatic Hudson labors, yet again, in a film that fails to accentuate her charm. Hollywood’s efforts to capitalize on the promise of Hudson’s Almost Famous breakthrough have been geared toward making her the next Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, the efforts have resulted in projects reminiscent of the junk that has plagued her mother’s (Goldie Hawn) long-suffering career. Shallow garbage.
When jet-setting modeling agent wannabe Helen (Hudson) goes for the reading of her late sister’s will, she gets a big surprise: Her sister’s three precocious children have been left in her care. Some sibling rivalry boils up when proper sister Jenny (a typecast Joan Cusack) becomes insulted that she was passed over, even though she’s already a successful mom in her own right. Because of a special letter left by the deceased (the contents of which are ridiculous, as the film later reveals), Helen bravely decides to take the children and raise them as her own.
In typical Marshall fashion, the perils of parenting children who have lost their birth guardians are sugarcoated and trivialized. Michael Begler and Jack Amiel’s screenplay plays like a tired sitcom, a very special episode of Mork and Mindy (which, oddly enough, Marshall directed). There’s tomfoolery with dead turtles, humorous diatribes when two young persons are prevented from having sex on prom night, and music-swelling sweetness as the youngest child has trouble tying her shoes. Nothing resonates or gives a sense of insight into their difficult situation. That would be the stuff of a meaningful movie.
Adding to the schmaltz is John Corbett as a hip Pastor with the hots for Helen. Corbett, a decent enough actor, brings a relative amount of dignity to what has to be one of the goofier roles of his career. He’s a preacher who cares about Helen and the kids, so much so that he drops by their home unannounced and meddles in their affairs. In a scene where Helen chastises him for speaking where he ought not, we are meant to think Helen is going overboard with her anger. Actually, her character is right to criticize the guy because he’s one nosy bastard. When their friendship turns to make-out sessions, Hudson and Corbett set off zero sparks.
Is it a little crazy to think Hudson can carry a film after such a string of failures? No. While it’s been seven films since Almost Famous, it has only been four years. Hudson should take a snoozer, watch some of her mom’s failures (like Overboard, directed by none other than Gary Marshall) and learn from her mistakes. She’s talented for sure. She’s just picking some mighty bad scripts and some pathetically sentimental directors. (CPL, CR, CS, NM)