A Little Help
As children we receive a series of lessons in morality. Although the grown-ups at school, church and home paint a picture of morality in terms of sharply defined rights and wrongs even to our immature minds it soon becomes clear that life is composed of shades of grey on every conceivable level. The first such lesson we learn usually involves lying. We are sternly instructed that not telling the truth is always wrong, period. Then, right before our innocent young eyes we learn something different by example. The adults can’t go a day without lying and if the child calls them out on it the concept of the white lie is forwarded. The point being we are carefully taught how to assuage our guilt over lying through self justification. It is to spare the feelings of another or protect someone from the discomfort the truth might bring. The recent independent film ‘A Little Help’ depicts a young mother who discovers the quicksand like quality of so called innocent fibs. She constructs a web of deceit around her life ostensibly for the benefit of her twelve year old son. This is the kind of premise that would never fly in the executive suites of a mainstream movie studio. This film is the sort of comedy that is not intended to invoke fits of laughter in the audience. The humor here is more along the line of an uncomfortable realization that some of the circumstances depicted here are a little too close to your personal experience. This is exactly way the independent film world is so important to the growth and vitality of the art of cinema. These movies can explore aspects of the human condition that would never be attempted by producers interested solely in the financial bottom line. While the movie industry is primarily a business and such concerns are valid a film like this reminds us the film is also an artistic mode of expression. ‘A Little Help’ is a movie that is flawed but in a way that benefits the production. The subject of the story is a serious damaged young woman. A highly polished movie would not be true to the themes presented or the character arc of the protagonist. The missteps inherent in this work reflect the human foibles of the character and by extension, ourselves.
Laura (Jenna Fischer) as always strove to be the modern woman who has it all; she has a career as a dental hygienist, a husband, Bob (Chris O'Donnell), a moderately successful real estate agent and a son, Dennis (Daniel Yelsky, just on the verge of puberty and part of the increasing tide of overweight American children. Unfortunately for Laura her life represents the dark side of this portion of the American dream. Her marriage had begun to spiral down but when Bob succumbs to a fatal heart attack subsequent to a heart arrhythmia a life that was disappointing slips into unbearable. Like many women she was completely unprepared to don the figurative widow’s veil. Bob had handled all the finances so after his untimely demise Laura is unaware of any aspect of the family financial circumstances or even the routine matters of paying bills. At a time like this a woman should be able to count on her family for emotional support but for lamentable Laura her family only exacerbates he woes. Her older sister, Kathy (Brooke Smith), is irrationally jealous and undeniably abrasive. Kathy’s husband, Paul (Rob Benedict), had once been involved with Laura but now is a regular drug user. Well, at least our heroine dodged that one. Laura cannot turn to her parents for any modicum of solace. Her parents Joan (Lesley Ann Warren) and Warren (Ron Leibman) are too self involved to provide any emotional support. Her mom would much rather pry into Laura’s collapsing finances that offer a sympathetic shoulder. Her sister is pushing Laura to hire a lawyer in order to sue Bob’s doctor for misdiagnosis his cardiac aliment. The web of lies begin with Dennis who embellishes the circumstances of his father’s death by telling everyone that Dad was a firefighter first responder who perished in the World Trade towers collapse. When his deceit is exposed Laura is caught in the middle and the pressure becomes unbearable.
Laura tries all the wrong methods to cope. She attempts to engage in an assignation with her brother-in-law consummating a long postponed date but that just pulls her deeper into lies of her own. Laura turns to self medication relying on copious quantities of beer and sneaking cigarettes behind the building. Instead providing a respite from the pressure all her attempts at escape backfire separating her further from facing the reality of her circumstances. This is a realistic and darkly humorous presentation of s life spirally out of control.
The writer/director here has been around for a long time but is just now making his mark in feature length films. Michael J. Weithorn has constructed his career as an executive producer for an eclectic selection of sit coms. He has been associated with major hits and little cult classics ranging from ‘Family Ties’ to ‘Ned and Stacy’ and ‘The King of Queens’. Most of his work has dealt with peculiar variations of families. Taking the most common place social construct and adding a twist. Here he has attracted a spectacular ensemble cast, another hall mark of the Indy film. These actors are well established and demonstrate a love for their medium through their involvement in projects such as this. Fischer plays against here usual perky girl next door personae taking on s role where the presentation has to overcome a lack of action. The film meanders along with little overtly occurring. As mentioned this is true to the subject. Laura is far from taking control of her life; he is reactive instead of proactive in hoe she responds to the event that are shaping her life. Some might complain about this but I saw something honest in the heart of the movie. This woman’s life is in a shamble; she drifts along hoping things will get better but ultimately unable to face life. She hides her feelings in much the same way she tries to conceal her smoking and drinking. Laura’s life is a lie and the film depicts this in a realistic fashion that can draw you in if only you give it a chance. You need to forget the Hollywood pacing of a movie and ease into as study of a woman sinking in her own existence.