U.S. Release Date: May 28, 2004
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Garry Marshall
Writer: Jack Amiel, Michael Begler
Producer: David Hoberman, Mario Iscovich (Executive)
Composer: John Debney
Cast: Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Hayden Panettiere, Spencer Breslin, Abigail Breslin, Helen Mirren
Running Time: 1 hour and 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic issues involving teens)

Sister Track
by Scott Holleran

Top-notch performances by Joan Cusack, Helen Mirren and Jurassic Park's Joseph Mazzello in a small part do not elevate Raising Helen above its conventional plot. The first real showcase for Kate Hudson is a folks-next-door tale that won't do much for her career. Miss Hudson is too plain in a fragmented role as a party girl re-railed on the mommy track.

Hudson's hardworking Helen enjoys her job as modeling agent Helen Mirren's rising assistant. When her sister and brother-in–law are tragically killed, everyone, including her holier-than-thou other sister, played by Cusack, is shocked that Helen is named as the surviving children's' guardian.

No one is shocked more than the audience because Helen's acceptance of surrogate motherhood is faster than a Times Square pickpocket. Helen moves the three darlings from the suburbs to Queens, where she enrolls them in a private school without discussing the matter with her boss, played by Mirren as a sophisticated New Yorker.

There are too many people competing for Helen's attention—besides the boss and the kids, who are unprecocious in their roles—including a neighbor mom (delightfully played by Sakina Jaffrey), the school's Pastor Dan (John Corbett), a model boyfriend and Cusack's pregnant sister, who knits, preaches the blessings of parenting and gives everyone potpourri.

It's the best role for the talented Cusack since In and Out. In fact, Raising Helen feels like it should have been her story. The sibling rivalry, the repressed emotions, the difficult choices faced by a mother—they are all captured by Cusack, whose character has a husband and kids and a lifetime of feeling second best. Cusack's is the most compelling character.

That Helen is assigned a love interest in the pastor who plays hockey—a stupid plug to prove he's manly—exacerbates her character's flaws. It's a mystery why anyone, let alone a man of God, would want to pal around with this mess of a wannabe mother. Religious scenes play like a dictate from a studio executive not to offend Christians. When they visit the zoo on a date, he prays for the animals. It's as romantic as genuflecting.

Helen's motives remain elusive. She is deceptive when concealing a dead pet turtle (with Pastor Dan as an accomplice), and her idea of being a loving and rational parent is: do it because I said so. When the first-born gets in serious trouble, which provides a climax (with Joseph Mazzello unrecognizable in his first major teenaged role), Helen falls apart and, again, Cusack steals the scene. Plot-stopper Paris Hilton weasels another useless walk-on.

Miss Hudson is neither as adorable nor as strong as she ought to be and, by the time all ends happily, she hasn't exhibited much of a makeover.

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