Laura (Jenna Fischer) is having a pretty horrible life so far. Her husband (Chris O’Donnell) has recently just passed from undetected heart problems and her son (Daniel Yelsky) has told everyone his death was as a fireman in the World Trade Center on 9/11 to become liked in school. Her sister (Lesley Ann Warren) treats her horribly and her brother in law (Rob Benedict) compensates for it. Throw in a sleazy attorney (Kim Coates) foisted on her, and a job that treats her well but has an annoying parrot behind her, and Laura has a lot of reasons to mentally justify her smoking and alcoholism. And A Little Help has all the elements for a really dark comedy, or an interesting drama, but suffers from one glaring problem.
It doesn’t want to go anywhere near the level of darkness it sets up, trying to go for a quirky comedy to suit its star’s talents, but the film’s tone and material don’t lend itself to quirky. Why? Because this is a film filled with detestable, unlikeable characters surrounding a marginally likeable one and is geared towards darkness but doesn’t quite get there. It’s a shame, really, because there’s a lot of potentially engaging material in the film. And a lot of the film’s problems come from the miscasting of Jenna Fischer.
Fischer is an ideal candidate for a film like this but this is a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. If this was a dark comedy one would expect Fischer’s chops to be ideal, and she’s a great fit for quirky, but this is a film that’s set up dark that’s trying to stray towards quirky and can’t find a comfortable mix. Fischer is left twisting in the end; she has a character that’s not all that likeable but has an odd way of endearing sympathy because Fischer has that quality about her. Laura may not be a likeable character but Fischer has enough charisma and presence about her to keep us interested.
The problem is that every other character around her is so ugly and detestable that she looks like an angel by comparison. You’ll want to take a shower after watching this film when you contemplate the people around Laura because they’re so slimy. No one is likeable or even understandable; they’d be over the top even if this was a cartoon. One can see where Michael Weithorn is going with the surrounding cast, and if this was a black comedy it’d be easy to see where these characters come in, but for a film trying to be quirky and not grotesquely dark they stand out like a square peg in a round hole.
A Little Help may not be the worst film of the year but it’s awfully close.
Writer / Director: Michael J Weithorn Notable Cast: Jenna Fischer, Chris O’Donnell, Rob Benedict, Arden Myrin, Lesley Ann Warren, Daniel Yelsky
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.