A highly entertaining and richly human movie experience with a gem of a performance from Jenna Fischer (TV's The Office), this post 9/11 dramedy centers on the upheaval a Long Island mom suffers the summer after the attack on the World Trade Center. Feature debut from writer/director and sitcom veteran Michael J. Weithorn might feel a bit slight, but as a character study it's smart and involving and could attract a female audience. As summer counter-programming, box office could be spotty, but an afterlife on home-viewing platforms is assured, particularly considering the TV cred of its star.
A Little Help promises something offbeat with its bizarrely wonderful opening shots of a dental office, but quickly launches into the more conventional tale of married dental hygienist, Laura (Fischer), whose rocky union with her possibly unfaithful husband, Bob (Chris O'Donnell) is keeping her down. Her 12-year-old son Dennis (Daniel Yelsky) has slipped into a non-communicative phase that's sent her freefalling; she turns to drinking and smoking to escape her problems. When Bob dies of a heart attack, Laura's overbearing mother (a perfect Lesley Anne Warren) and sister Kathy (Brooke Smith) intrude on the proceedings and insist Dennis be shipped to a private school and Laura engage a malpractice attorney (Kim Coates) to sue Bob's doctors for misdiagnosis. This all leads to her biggest quandary and a couple of little white lies that don't turn out to be so little. At his new school, Dennis impresses kids with a tall tale that his father was a fireman who died a hero on 9/11; he begs his mom to play along. Laura capitulates, suddenly taking on the moniker of a 9/11 widow. She also gets caught up in a fib about the lawsuit, knowing Bob was keeping info about his heart and activities secret because it would have revealed his infidelity. Spiraling further downward, she turns to the one person she can talk to, Kathy's husband Paul (Rob Benedict), suddenly exposing long suppressed feelings between the two.
Although this isn't a "9/11 film," the emotional fragility caused by the tragedy plays a supporting role. Fischer leaves her TV persona far behind to believably create Laura, a woman trying desperately to hang on for what semblance of family and sanity she has left. Yelsky as her sullen son is perfect without falling into cloying mannerisms. Warren, in her few scenes, nails it, while O'Donnell isn't around enough to make much of an impression. Benedict's scenes with Fischer are also superbly played in this heartfelt little indie.
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Cast: Jenna Fischer, Chris O'Donnell, Lesley Anne Warren, Daniel Yelsky, Brooke Smith, Kim Coates, Rob Benedict
Director/Screenwriter: Michael J. Weithorn
Producers: Dena Hysell, Joe Gressis
Rating: R for language, some sexual content and drug use.
Running Time: 108 min.
Release Date: June 24 NY/LA, July 1 ltd., July 8 EXP.