Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another look at life gone sour

Jenna Fischer's the highlight of this sometimes amusing, but negligible tale.
In A Little Help, Jenna Fischer plays a Long Island dental technician who's mired in a faltering marriage. As a result, Fischer's Laura has become a little too fond of beer, a little too negligent about herself. She's also convinced that her husband (Chris O'Donnell) is having an affair.

Fischer isn't afraid to show us Laura's unraveled state. At times, we see the beauty that once touched the hearts of high school boys. At other times, we see a beleaguered working wife and mother who no longer gets much pleasure out of life.

Fischer gives a strong performance in a movie that early on drops its major dramatic bomb: O'Donnell's character dies of a heart attack.

Thus begins Laura's process of recovery. She begins to feel her way toward a new life, no simple matter. She's constantly berated by her sister (Brooke Smith) for failing to take responsibility for her life. Her mother (Lesley Ann Warren) isn't much better, and her father (Ron Leibman) is too busy recounting his triumphs as a former sports writer to pay much attention to anyone else.

Meanwhile Laura's son (Daniel Yelsky) tries to adjust to life at a new school by telling a whopping lie to gain sympathy. He puts his mother in an awkward position: Either she must play along or make her son even more miserable. This fib gives the movie an unpleasant tilt because Daniel's lie borders on the indefensible.

As if all this weren't complicated enough, Laura's brother-in-law (Rob Benedict) mostly submits to his wife's bullying while trying to be a pal to his teen-age son, an aspiring rock musician.

There's nothing particularly compelling about any of this, and writer/director Michael J. Weithorn never fuses the movie's parts into a satisfying whole.

Oh well, a negligible movie might have been even more negligible without Fischer, best known for her work on TV's The Office and, in A Little Help, operating at her exasperated and often funny best.

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