Raising Helen centers on a posh Manhattanite who suddenly finds herself playing mommy to her sister's kids after said sibling tragically dies. Despite this blatant pulling of heartstrings, the film still has some surprisingly tender moments.
Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) is the quintessential Sex and the City single gal, with a fabulous job at a top modeling agency and a swingin' social life. But her carefree lifestyle comes to a screeching halt when her beloved oldest sister, Lindsay (Felicity Huffman), and brother-in-law are killed in a car accident, and Helen is suddenly named the legal guardian to her sister's three kids--Audrey (Hayden Panettiere), 15; Henry (Spencer Breslin), 10 and Sarah (Abigail Breslin), 5. Sure, Helen is great at being the coolest aunt in New York but as a mom? A whole different story. Coupled with this is the fact her other sister, Jenny (Joan Cusack), a supermom in her own right, is completely flabbergasted Lindsay did not choose her as legal guardian and takes every opportunity to tell Helen she isn't cut out for mommy-hood. Still, Helen is determined to at least try to adhere to her late sister's wishes and finds a little help along the way with Dan Parker (John Corbett), the handsome young pastor and principal of the kids' new school. But it's tough for the party girl to ditch her old ways--even for the new loves of her life.
Even if her choices have been suspect of late (Alex & Emma? Bad idea, Kate), Hudson does have a certain joie de vivre that radiates on screen and makes even the most cornball script palatable. Even if Raising Helen falls into the predictable, Hudson's Helen never does; all her emotions are veritable and heartfelt, especially when she's dealing with the kids. The young actors also do an excellent job adding to the film's emotions. Panettiere, all grown up from child roles in Joe Somebody and HBO's Normal, does a nice job as a teen struggling with the loss of her parents, as well as raging hormones, while the Breslin siblings, Spencer (The Cat in the Hat) and his younger sister, Abigail (Signs), handle the tear-jerking scenes with aplomb, especially Abigail. It doesn't matter what frame of mind you're in, watching a little girl cry over the fact she can't tie her shoes because her mother isn't around to teach her is gonna get you every single time. Cusack inhabits yet another uptight role in a string of uptight roles (School of Rock; In & Out), but she does it so well, you can't blame her. Same goes for Corbett. He continues to play the same adorable, sexy man he's played countless times before (Sex and the City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and we don't mind if they just keep letting him.
Labeled a ''heartwarming comedy'' from director Garry Marshall, some may be hard pressed to find any comedy in Raising Helen. Grief-stricken children; rebellious, self-destructive teenagers; feuding sisters, not to mention, death--oh yeah, this film is hilarious. At least the heartwarming part is true-- a technique Marshall has mastered, having directed all-out hankie producers such as Beaches and romantic comedies such as Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries. The director certainly isn't afraid to show feelings, as he brings out more than a few genuine emotions in Raising Helen, especially between Helen and the kids. In one particularly honest moment, teen Audrey has gotten herself into a bit of trouble and while Helen wants to be the parent, should be the parent, she just cannot find a way to reprimand the girl, leaving the duties to the tough-as-nails Jenny. It's definitely a scene that hits home. Yet, for all the truthfulness, Raising Helen still has an overabundant amount of schmaltz--laying it on thick too many times and leaving very little surprises on how things are going to turn out.
If you're expecting more laughs, the sappy Raising Helen may disappoint. But with a little help from the sunny Kate Hudson and her kids, at least some of that hokey sentiment gets through and touches your heart. [sniff] Pass the Kleenex, please.