*** (out of four)
Laura (Jenna Fischer of “The Office”) quickly goes from frustrated wife to mildly grieving wife when her probably-cheating-on-her husband (Chris O’Donnell) drops dead seconds after she pleasures him. (This is the part where some will say, “What a way to go.”) That leaves her floundering with a 12-year-old son (Daniel Yelsky), who treats her no better than many 12-year-old boys treat their parents, and an irritating, overbearing sister (Brooke Smith) who wants Laura to sue her late husband’s doctor for malpractice. And who doesn’t love giving in to someone pushy.
By the way: The movie takes place in New York 10 months after 9/11, adding to everyone’s feelings about life’s uncertainty. Which doesn’t mean “A Little Help” is especially heavy; much of the film features Jakob Dylan songs that probably bump the sense of melancholy a little too close to woeful-but-peppy.
The verdict: Sad people often have a dry sense of humor, and “A Little Help” delivers a surprising number of laughs from characters just giving themselves a short, tart break from the stress. Several moments ring false, especially Laura running out of gas at the worst possible time, as writer-director Michael J. Weithorn overcompensates for a nicely organic plot with shtick that seems worried the movie’s getting too serious. Yet sometimes that’s when it’s best. Fischer flexes real-deal acting chops as a woman who’s lost control of her life, learning that when parents lie, soon kids lie too. That’s a hefty message for anyone who believes that family should be a push in the right direction, not a trickle-down system for psychological issues.
Did you know? At the dentist’s office where she works as a hygienist, Laura must tolerate a parrot that constantly commands, “Rinse, please!” Consider if you’re more willing to follow directions about oral care from a squawking animal or a stranger with her hands in your mouth.
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