Plodding Indie A Little Help Needs, Well, A Little Help

scene 10c co yellow car Plodding Indie A Little Help Needs, Well, A Little Help

O'Donnell.

Little, low-budget, independent films every week, every month, all year long … that’s what keeps the dying movie business from its own burial, six feet under. A Little Help, written and directed by Michael J. Weithorn, is a benign slice of life about suburban angst on Long Island. It’s not much, but thanks to the noble efforts of a very good cast, I’ve seen worse.

Jenna Fischer, whose colorless role on TV’s The Office has always left me underwhelmed, plays a dental hygienist named Laura with a mounting pyramid of domestic problems in this dull little picture, which is undeniably well meaning but can, at best, be called only unremarkable. Laura is married to Bob (Chris O’Donnell), a good-looking drone who sells real estate.  They have an obnoxious, overweight 12-year-old son named Dennis (newcomer Daniel Yelsky) who is angry, precocious and terminally surly. Laura would like Bob to do something about Dennis, but he is rarely home, feigning important night meetings and working overtime. They haven’t had conjugal relations in months and Laura suspects another woman. Her social life centers on unbearable family dinners with her jealous older sister Kathy (Brooke Smith), their nagging parents (guest stars Lesley Ann Warren and Ron Leibman) and Kathy’s embattled, stoner husband Paul (Rob Benedict) whom Laura should have married years ago. No wonder Laura drinks too much and Paul hides on the lawn smoking pot. And no wonder Bob drops dead from a heart attack. (Sorry to lose Chris O’Donnell so early in the film.)

No longer a miserable wife, Laura is now a miserable widow who is sinking fast. Her meddling mother pries into her finances, her sister demands that she hire a lawyer to sue her doctor for misdiagnosing Bob’s chest pains, and Dennis, to get sympathy and attention, tells everyone in school that his father was a fireman who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 while rescuing victims. The movie drags on, passing the time with irrelevant scenes (Kathy’s son takes a guitar lesson from rock and roll recording star Dion and plays an immediate duet on one of his hit songs) and superfluous dialogue (Laura has a patient who lost a filling eating popcorn at the fights and says, “I felt kinda silly worrying about my toothache and meanwhile, there’s a guy in the ring bleeding from both ears”). Eventually Laura makes an appointment with her brother-in-law to relieve sexual tension by consummating their long-postponed date between the sheets, but another crisis interferes when the teachers and students in Dennis’s school expose his lies and all hell breaks loose. No longer able to cope, Laura is already addicted to cases of Budweiser; can Librium be far behind?

The writing is uneven but you do get a sense of what makes the characters tick. I could have done without the scene in which mother and son stage a shouting match, repeatedly screaming “You suck!” and “No, you suck!” The actors are sincere (especially Ms. Fischer, who plays frustration well) and the direction has a complacent rhythm, but 1 hour and 48 minutes is too long for a movie in which nothing much happens. You need patience to get through it, and my own patience ran out long before the final unconvincing resolution. A Little Help is obviously not a movie with guaranteed appeal for the masses.

rreed@observer.com

A LITTLE HELP

Running time 108 minutes

Written and directed by Michael J. Weithorn

Starring Jenna Fischer, Chris O’Donnell

2/4

Comments

  1. Woody Regan says:

    I saw this film at the Seattle Film Festival last year and thought it was superb.  With all due respect, Mr. Reed, you are and always have been known as a reviewer with slavishly mainstream tastes.  That’s fine, most people prefer mainstream films to more naturalistic and emotionally honest films, so you serve a valuable function for these viewers.  But there a significant number of people  out there who prefer films like A Little Help (it was a huge hit at Seattle) to the ones you like, and you really shouldn’t muddy the waters for them by reviewing films like this at all. 

  2. Huphup25 says:

    Wow, you write about this film with such negative undertones, it almost feels like you immediately wrote the movie off because it’s an indie flick. I saw A Little Help with family in Seattle and I completely enjoyed it. In all the chaos, it feels real and honest. There need to be more films that are like this, that make people FEEL instead of make people want to have superpowers.

    1. Keri Grubb says:

      So right… couldn’t believe how quick to judge this review was. Haven’t seen the movie yet, but the preview made it look like really fun and interesting.

  3. Bar Sports says:

    I agree with Woody – you’ve completely written off the movie simply because it’s an indie flick! That’s a pretty provincial outlook to say the least.I saw A Little Help in Indianapolis and really liked it – it was such an no-holds-bar movie about what happens when everything goes wrong – which really relates to life for a lot of people. It was much more down-to-earth than just about every other movie out there and that was really refreshing. I hope people will see the movie for what it is – an honest glimpse into the life of a regular family going through some really tough stuff – and like it in all its rawness.

    Plus the soundtrack and score are killer good!

  4. kate says:

    Excellent film.  I love indie flicks, especially this one!  I was definitely entertaining throughout the movie, and never a dull moment.  The lawyer character was especially interesting as well as a funny character. I hope the theater is packed for the opening in kc this weekend!  Again, awesome film and thoroughly enjoyed it!

  5. Olga says:

    It always bothers me when a movie that isn’t a  huge blockbuster type of thing gets shot down. I saw the movie at the Long Island International Film Expo and fell in love with it! Jenna Fischer’s character as a real person going through human struggles came across very clearly and connected with me on many levels. As a published author, I find these kinds of movies most inspirational over the big fantasy surrealism that is out there today. The authors of this blog or post seem way too quick to judge it and do not see the symbolism of a woman struggling to over come expectations in society. I guess for some, if you haven’t experienced it, you have no clue what you are talking about. It is critical when making reviews of a movie to not just look at the big picture but also to try putting yourself in the characters shoes. I would totally recomment this movie to people of all ages. A+

  6. Ethan Hirsch says:

    went to see the movie anyhow and actually enjoyed it… much better than the summer “blockbuster” junk that it is competing against.

  7. Susanna says:

    I thought the acting was genuine, real, and I thought Rob Benedict was really good. I was not sad to see Chris O’Donnell leave early on, and while I felt like the film left me hanging on for more, that was just it- I wanted more because I really enjoyed it.