Review: A Little Help DVD

A Little Help DVDSTUDIO: Image | DIRECTOR: Michael Weithorn | CAST: Jenna Fischer, Chris O’Donnell, Rob Benedict, Lesley Ann Warren, Ron Leibman, Brooke Smith, Daniel Yelsky
RELEASE DATE: 10/25/2011 | PRICE: DVD $27.97, Blu-ray $29.97
BONUSES: cast interviews, Jakob Dylan music video
SPECS: R | 109 min. | Comedy drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The independent comedy-drama A Little Help is the kind of movie that drifts along pleasantly enough but makes so little of an impression that you can’t recall much about it a half-hour after the end roll.

Set in 2002, the film stars Jenna Fischer (TV’s The Office) as Laura, a new widow struggling to raise her 12-year-old son (Daniel Yelsky) in the wake of her husband, Bob’s (Chris O’Donnell, TV’s NCIS: Los Angeles), untimely death.

A Little Help movie scene

Jenna Fischer is simply looking for A Little Help.

The malleable Laura soon discovers that her husband has left a legacy of marital infidelity and staggering debts. She finds herself pushed unwillingly in the direction of private schooling for her son and a malpractice suit against the hospital that treated Bob by her domineering older sister, Kathy (Brooke Smith, Fair Game), and parents (Peep World‘s Lesley Ann Warren and Garden State‘s Rob Leibman) — all of whom are significantly wealthier than Laura, and all of whom seem to regard her from heights of contempt rather than any depth of sympathy.

To complicate matters further, Laura learns that her brother-in-law, Paul (Rob Benedict, TV’s Supernatural), has been secretly in love with her since high school, and her son has told his new schoolmates that his father was a firefighter who died on 9/11. Laura finds herself compelled to corroborate this lie rather than tell the truth and inflict social misery on her son, but the consequences of this are foreseeable.

The first feature film written and directed by Michael Weithorn (TV’s King of Queens), A Little Help is almost more interesting for the movie it might have been than the movie it is.

Warren plays Laura’s mother with a genuinely creepy malevolence that’s never adequately explained but seems to hint at a back-story worth telling. And it’s clear that Bob was, at some vague point in the past, something of a golden boy (Kathy eventually admits to a long-standing jealousy that Bob preferred Laura to herself way back when). The failing careers and dumpy home we first encounter Bob and Laura in — along with the conspicuously flashy and expensive car Bob drives — would seem to indicate some monumental fall from grace. What that may have been, however, is never explored.

Nevertheless Fischer is likeable enough. It’s always a pleasure to re-encounter Warren and Leibman, and I can never see Brooke Smith without remembering her exuberant rendition of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” in The Silence of the Lambs.

A Little Help may not quite add up to the sum of its parts, but it’s not unpleasant and there are worse ways to kill two hours.

Bonus features on the DVD include an interview with Fischer, who describes her character of Laura as “the biggest departure from my actual personality than anyone I’ve ever played before, so [it] was a challenge.”

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About Gwen

Gwen Cooper is a movie and TV lover and the author of Homer's Odyssey (no, not the one you're thinking of).