Garry Marshall's Raising Helen is in the tradition of films like Stepmom (1998) and Baby Boom (1987) that suddenly confront a modern, glamorous career woman with the mundane complications of childrearing.
Helen (Kate Hudson) is an up-and-coming agent in the modelling business. When her sister Lindsay (Felicity Huffman) dies in a car accident, Helen is shocked to learn that she has been given custody of three children over the supermom of the family, Jenny (Joan Cusack).
This story plays it safe at all points. For instance, Helen must swap her decadent, party-girl lifestyle for a tepid romance with a Lutheran pastor, Dan (John Corbett). But Marshall blunts the difference between these sectors of Helen's life, since Dan is meant to be a cool pastor.
Raising Helen peddles a predictable moral lesson about the need for a flighty single woman to grow up and accept the responsibility of a family. But nothing in Helen's journey is particularly illuminating or even convincing.
It is a flat film that never makes much of its entertainment potential. The best moments are the sibling fight scenes between Hudson and Cusack, but for the most part neither actor is stretched beyond simplistic typecasting, and Helen Mirren (as Helen's boss) is simply wasted.
Only an occasional comedy of manners observation rises from the overall banality, such as when Helen reacts with horror to the prospect of moving from Manhattan to Queens: "We are not bridge and tunnel people!"
MORE Marshall: The Princess Diaries 2
© Adrian Martin June 2004