Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review - A Little Help

After losing her husband, a widowed mother of a teenage boy struggles to get her life in order.

A big problem with most self-indulgent people is they don’t realize how they are hurting themselves or those around them. They just continue to make bad decision after bad decision. Loved ones and friends can try to help push them in the right direction but then it becomes harder to gauge whether or not the person is learning from their mistakes they continually create. Eventually it seems the best action to take is a back seat, allowing the individual learn for themselves. Letting them hit rock bottom if necessary. “A Little Help” plants the audience right in the middle of a self-indulgent thirty-something mother who is faced with some tough decisions after the untimely passing of her husband.

One area where audiences might have a hard time connecting with “A Little Help” is the entire movie follows Laura (Jenna Fischer) while she comes to terms with her own issues. This drama is far from a feel good movie and it trudges through some dark territory that audiences won’t have the easiest time with. It is stark, honest and uncomfortable yet it is a poignant story told from the female perspective. Too often woman in cinema are only there to play a romantic element or worse yet just eye candy but not here. Writer and director Michael J. Weithorn gives the audience a no frills approach to a woman who has rough road ahead of her, mainly due to the decisions she’s made and continues to make.

Satisfaction is one thing director Michael J. Weithorn seemed fine to leave out of this story. As previously noted “A Little Help” makes the audience privy to a time in Laura’s life that is not easy to watch. I found myself desperately wanting for her to make the right decisions for herself and her son, but she just doesn’t. The audience is only given a glimmer of hope that Laura will change her ways, but if you believe in patterns it becomes very easy to dismiss any positive and assume she will continue to plot herself and her son down the wrong path.

On the brighter side of things the performances throughout “A Little Help” are powerful. Jenna Fischer’s character Laura is hard to connect with for all the reasons stated above, but Fischer still delivers a rich emotional and somber performance. Fischer has this adorable nature to herself that beams on screen yet the audience could find themselves disgusted with her. It was refreshing to see Fischer in a non-cutesy role we’ve grown so accustom to her playing on NBC’s “The Office.” I’m sure Fischer wanted to prove to herself and audiences she has a larger range than just comedy and with “A Little Help” she takes a nice step to illustrate that.

Before finishing up about the number of solid performances, I’d like to go back to the cutesy-ideal for a moment. The looks of Laura play into her character and I appreciated that Weithorn’s script took time to point out that good looks can only take a person so far. One of the best moments on screen comes when Laura asks her father (aptly played by Ron Leibman) why he hadn’t defended her more growing up and his answer speaks volumes to the weight of Laura’s character and the crux of her journey in the film. Call me sappy, but I loved seeing a father and daughter moment that really held the most emotional water throughout the life of “A Little Help” not to mention, his speech is heartfelt, abrupt and sealed the lesson to be learned.

The supporting cast is versed to say the least. Everyone around Jenna Fischer delivers seasoned performances starting with her father Warren played by Ron Leibman. Leibman steals every scene he is in with his swift dialogue and miles of charm. Next up is Rob Benedict playing Laura’s brother-in-law Paul. There are a number of issues I have with Paul’s character however, Benedict does a fabulous job playing a husband and father who is unsatisfied with where he is. Brooke Smith also gives a commanding performance as Laura’s pushy sister. Finally Daniel Yelsky is good as Laura’s emotionally distant son Dennis. The character of Dennis is one area of the script I felt could have benefitted from further development but I cede that this film is more about Laura and less about her son, so in the end it makes sense.

In the end, "A Little Help" is a slice of life that isn't meant to be easy on our hearts or minds. It is a tough pill to swallow and that is just fine. Life isn't always easy and I'm glad writer/director Michael J. Weithorn took some risks. Regardless of any dark material I still found a lot to take away from the small drama. Audiences are sure to wrestle with it, but its a good emotional wrestle that hopefully will help others to realize the weight of their decisions can effect not just themselves but loved ones and friends around them.