Directed by: Garry Marshall
Starring: Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Hayden Panetierre, Spencer Breslin, Abigail Breslin
"She's so cute! the women sitting behind me whispered to one another throughout the entire two hours of Raising Helen. I agree completely -- no matter what actress Kate Hudson is doing, she's cute. Those Goldilocks ringlets, that cupcake face, that dazzling smile -- and let's not forget the cute little butt perched northward on the ridiculously pointless poster for this film.
As Goldie Hawn's daughter, Hudson was born to cuteness (not that forced, phony, look-at-me-I'm-so-wonderful variety, but the naturally good-humored, I'm-adorable-and-so-are-you kind). And no matter how many movie critics complain that she should expand her talents and tackle more substantial roles, I promise you that if Hudson played Lady Macbeth, there would be audience members giggling at how cute she was as she wrung her hands.
As any woman over the age of 6 knows, cuteness can get you a lot of perks in life -- and at this, Helen Harris (Hudson) is an expert. She's an ambitious Manhattan fashion-agency executive whose boss, Dominique (Helen Mirren, Calendar Girls ), is a ringer for Diana Vreeland, the legendary Harper's Bazaar fashion editor. Helen charms maitre d's into letting her worm ahead in line just as easily as she beds the hottest new male hunk. The fast life is good, and she loves it.
Then comes a terrible phone call: Her beloved sister and brother-in-law have been killed in an accident. Surprising everyone, the parents leave their three children in Helen's care, and not that of super-mom sibling Jenny (Joan Cusack The School of Rock, hilarious in a thankless part), who has several kids of her own and another on the way.
Overnight, Helen becomes the sole parent to rebellious teenager Audrey (Hayden Panetierrie, TV's One Life to Live), sullen middle-grader Henry (Spencer Breslin) and kindergartener Sarah (Spencer's real-life sister, Abigail Breslin). The kids are understandably traumatized and Helen tries gamely to incorporate them into her lifestyle. But guess what? Having three kids is not chic, so soon it's au revoir to the high-paying job and Venus stiletto pumps, and hello to an apartment in Queens, money worries, exhaustion, loneliness, self-doubt and feeling overwhelmed every waking minute of the day. Sound familiar, gals?
After seeing the effects on the kids of one day in public school, Helen decides they must get a private education. The first school she finds is affiliated with the Lutheran Church: old-fashioned brick buildings, polite kids, friendly moms and, hmmm, who's that? Enter the tall, gorgeous, unmarried school principal, Pastor Dan (John Corbett, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). And while Helen doesn't know a Lutheran minister from a Franciscan monk, she's so cute that she gets the children enrolled.
One by one, the kids deal with their parents' deaths. Even though you know director Garry Marshal (sitcom king and movies like Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries) has storyboarded all those heart-tugging moments at least 50 times before, they still work, and you can't help but get a lump in your throat. After all kinds of ups and downs, surrenders and re-determinations, misunderstandings and apologies, tough-love interventions and tears, Helen and the kids recommit to one another and she manages to get her glamorous job back so she can take care of them without killing herself. (Yep, it's a fairy tale.)
Most importantly, Helen finally allows Pastor Dan to kiss her after he delivers the greatest come-on line in recent history: "I'm a sexy man," he tells her. "I'm a sexy man of God."
Lordy, he's speaking the truth about that, but not much else. If his character has any servanthood to God, it's not brought out in this film. And Pastor Dan certainly doesn't play very straight with Helen. Not once does he tell her what she's in for if she continues to fall in love with him and they get married -- that she will have to convert to Lutheranism, take religion seriously, learn how to play the piano and lead the choir, and uproot herself and the three kids to follow him anywhere the church sends him. Raising those kinds of issues is way beyond the scope of this slice of romantic cuteness.
-- reviewed by Marci Miller