Movie Review: “A Little Help”

Written by Michael McNeely December 04, 2011

We Should Try to Finish What We Sta-

When watching “independent films” – a phrase I’m sure I’ll  qualify someday – there are certain tropes or themes that are more apparent, and perhaps, easier to deal with than with those of the Hollywood mainstream movie-making machine. One of those, found in recent indie films from The Beaver to Last Night to Rabbit Hole is that families are effed up. Someone said that family forces one to spend time  with people you wouldn’t spend time with normally.

So, would you want to spend time with Laura’s family? Laura (played by Jenna Fischer aka Pam from The Office). Laura needs to quit smoking, stop drinking, take better care of herself (and her son, apparently) – this is the first thing her husband says to her when he comes home late from work. They haven’t had sex for two months, but perhaps the  husband is uncomfortable talking about his sex life at the doctor’s because of his extracurricular pursuits. Their son worships daddy and wonders why he doesn’t spend more time with him and whenever he wants to vent, he instant messages his mother who has her own computer ready to receive messages from him – YES, WHEN THEY’RE IN THE SAME HOUSE!

Not dysfunctional enough? Well, I wasn’t done. Laura’s father is a retired sports  journalist who can’t stop talking about how he made the scoop of the century in any sports-related headline. Laura’s mother basically calls Laura a spoiled brat who is unable to take care of her son properly and “needs a man around the house.” Laura’s sister is of the same position and says she’s been thinking more about Laura’s place in life (as a lowly dental hygienist) than her. The  sister’s husband seems pretty cool and laid back – well, up until the point where he tells Laura that he married her sister to be close to Laura herself.

When you watch this film, you see the character of Laura get shit on repeatedly. For the majority of the film, she is repeatedly told that she cannot take care of  herself or do things properly. I would have liked her to actively show that she could manage her own affairs, but it is only at the very end that she begins to clean up her life – and then it is over. We don’t get any closure – we have a character who is proven to be a loser time and time again and we don’t get to see her fight back, so the stings of the insults thrown at her are still  painful as the credits roll. This being said, I gravitated towards the character of Laura – and I’ll explain why.

Either within Laura’s character, or by the part of Jenna Fischer, maybe both, is the ability to look at life in its absurd moments. For example, in her job as a dental hygienist, her direct supervisor is … an annoying screeching and talking parrot that reminds patients to “please rinse” ad nauseam. Laura later tells a patient that she would love to see this parrot served for dinner, and we know that somewhere within all the pain there is a valve of escape through humour and sarcasm. She does this with all the characters that she can relate to – including her son and the brother-in-law, and they come to appreciate her personality and her solidarity. It is the others that don’t – but I’m sure that there are a lot of people we don’t value and appreciate and we should.

It is interesting to note that this film takes place in 2002, a year after 9/11, and in fact, 9/11 is a big part in this film – as a result of lies the son tells everyone in school – and it is funny how Laura deals with “being a hero of 9/11” in her daydreams about the implications of her son’s lie – God bless America for the opportunity, she seems to be thinking, in a very sarcastic and sardonic way.

I have to take marks off for the rushed ending – I wondered how it was going to end, throughout, with all the problems it kept producing, and it just … ended with still a few problems left unresolved. This may have been a good TV show if Jenna Fischer wasn’t too busy. I also have to take marks off for hammy and campy acting from the sleazy lawyer character who I could not believe was an actual lawyer – he fulfills every stereotype of an evil villain (even with an evil mustache, and he even puts his hand through his hair in that way only evil, evil, evil, evil people do). Fun fact, he’s played by Kim Coates, who was played by Michael Shannon in The Runaways - he was their real-life manager that they eventually had a falling out with.

All in all, a good if imbalanced film about troubling relationships.

My Rating: 7/10

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