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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Ron Batzdorff İHolding Pictures Distribution Co. LLC, all rights reserved)

photo caption:
GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER: The new family – Audrey (Hayden Panettiere, left, Sarah (Abigail Breslin), Helen (Kate Hudson), and Henry (Spencer Breslin) – enjoy a day in New York.
end caption.


Joan Cusack Steals Show While "Raising Helen"

Review by Kam Williams

Is Joan Cusack ever going to get the recognition she deserves? In Raising Helen, an otherwise average movie, she single-handedly elevates it to the level of a good family comedy. Last fall, as nosy Headmistress Mullins, Joan was the most memorable thing about School of Rock.

Earlier in her career, this versatile comedienne did land a couple of Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations for her inspired performances in Working Girl (1988) and In & Out (1997). However, despite critical acclaim, the elder sister of actor John Cusack has languished in the shadows of a string of leading actresses she has made look better by playing their loyal confidante, kooky co-worker, ugly-duckling sibling, etc.

The perennial second-banana has appeared opposite Melanie Griffith, Jessica Lange, Lauren Holly, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ashley Judd, Jacqueline Bisset, Geena Davis, Minnie Driver, Molly Ringwald, Holly Hunter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julianne Moore, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Ms. Cusack delivers again in Raising Helen, where she not only upstages Kate Hudson, but the rest of a talented cast.

The picture is set in New York City where hedonist Helen Harris (Hudson) divides her time between a glamorous career in the fashion industry and carefree overindulging on the hot nightclub circuit. Her self indulgent lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt when Helen's eldest sister and her husband unexpectedly die in a tragic car accident. Their will gives Helen custody of their three children aged 5, 10, and 15.

Can an irresponsible party girl who has barely managed her own affairs mature quickly enough to be a mother to her suddenly orphaned nieces and nephew? That, in a nutshell, is the intriguing premise of Raising Helen, directed by Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman).

Mr. Marshall's supporting cast comprises veteran actors. Consequently, the screen is filled with vaguely familiar faces which is distracting as you try to place all the character actors.

First, there's Hector Elizondo, who has appeared in every movie Marshall has ever made. Then there's John Corbett, from My Big Fat Greek Wedding who returns for another shot as an emasculated love interest – Pastor Dan. Helen Mirren (Calendar Girls) does her typically steely rendition of an upper crust British citizen and is Helen's boss, Dominique. Paris Hilton enjoys a cameo as a club kid.

Even the young actors playing the three grieving siblings are recognizable in their own right. Abigail Breslin (5 year-old Sarah) made her screen debut as the adorably precocious tyke in Signs while her real-life and movie brother Spencer (10 year-old Henry) starred in The Cat in the Hat in 2003. Hayden Panettiere (15 year-old Audrey), memorable as the defiant adolescent in Remember the Titans, is quite convincing as a rebellious teenager.

As the plot thickens, Helen moves from the city to the suburbs and enrolls the kids in a private school. Despite her best efforts to juggle all of her responsibilities, she gets fired from her job and fails miserably as a mother. When it becomes apparent that Aunt Helen has no idea how to raise the children, she ends up dumping them on the doorstep of Aunt Jenny (Cusack), her straitlaced sister who already has a family of her own to worry about.

Jenny, we learn, has led a safe, boring existence, so it's just a matter of time before the kids will be back with Helen. All she has to do is get another job, charm the collar off Pastor Dan, and have some sense talked into her by her emotional, well-meaning, big sister.

The movie is satisfying only because of Joan Cusack's sterling performance. Will somebody please give that actress a starring role in her own vehicle?

Excellent (three and 1/2 stars). Rated PG-13 for adult themes.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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