Never underestimate the power of experience. Fresh off directing a couple episodes of King of Queens, Michael J. Weithorn make his feature film debut with A Little Help. I’m all for new talented writer/directors (Mark Webb), but unfortunately, while I do see potential for some creative ideas in this film, he probably should have tried out a few shorts before diving head first into a feature.
It felt like highly produced sit-coms episodes strung together.
In the film, Jenna Fischer plays Pam…. sorry, Laura, a dental hygienist who must deal with the aftermath of the sudden death of her unfaithful husband. With her family almost forcing comfort and support down her throat, she soon discovers that her son has been lying about his father’s death to his friends at school to make him sound cooler. The film has all the elements in place, a solid story with good casting, but ultimately fails to come together as a cohesive unit that keeps the audience engaged the whole time.
The strongest aspect of the film, by far, is Fischer’s surprisingly honest portrayal of her character. As a fan of The Office, seeing her as the lead in this trailer was pretty much the sole reason for me to be interested in this film, and ultimately, really the only reason I walked away mostly liking the film. Of course she will always be remembered for her cute secretary role, and I actually thought she was hilarious in Walk Hard, but I must say that it was refreshing to see her get a chance to shine as a strong female lead.
The strongest aspect of her character was her relationship with her son Dennis, which I will actually give the writer/director credit for making some very realistic and relatable choices. Dennis ends up telling his new classmates that his father died in 9/11, rather than a heart condition, to which Laura obviously has a strong reaction. Their fighting is one of the most entertaining moments in the film, with strong performances from both actors that only comes from real chemistry.
Another plus for this film was the supporting cast, with strong performances from Dennis, played by newcomer Daniel Yelsky, as well as her brother-in-law Rob Benedict (who seems recognizable from a few TV shows and other small indie films). And, while his character as Laura’s dad is kind of random and probably should have been cut down, Ron Leibman (Garden State) is always memorable and fun to watch.
But, unfortunately, a lot of this was brought down with some strange directing choices. Don’t get me wrong, while the film as a whole was a little slow, it had a nice tone to it, and the story itself would make a great pitch, but the problem was that somewhere between that and the screen, the film never managed to come together as a whole. Honestly, it felt that Weithorn was too close to the film and couldn’t step back and take an objective look at how his story was being told. Ultimately, he just left the viewers feeling unresolved and without the optimistic feeling he was probably going for.
The Blu-Ray should have had a large deleted scene section. Coming in at only 109 minutes, the film still felt 20 minutes too long, with whole scenes feeling out of place and dragging the overall pace of the film down.
As for the disk itself, don’t get too excited if you are a special features junkie, because there is little to be found in this release. All that can really be found under the “Special Features” tab is a series of promotional interviews that are cut down into individual questions. Sure, you can hit “play all” to go through all the questions, but each one is cut with the same intro, and gets repetitive rather quickly. All the questions are just about the actor’s characters or simply explaining various moments from the film, rather than adding anything interesting about the making of the film. And, of course, you can watch the trailer.
So, is A Little Help a Blu-Ray purchase? I think I actually just saw this pop up on Netflix instant play.