Garry Marshall’s preachy Raising Helen is not being billed as a fairy tale, but it exists in a fantasy New York City no one has ever seen before. Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) works for the nicest “bitch” in the world (Helen Mirren) at a top Manhattan modeling agency that employs mothers and water cooler delivery men, goes to modeling shows where the women can’t strut and the men all have at least 10% body fat, and goes to dorky clubs with inexplicably impossible door policies. When Helen’s Devo-loving sister dies somewhere in the film’s painless off-screen space, she’s left with three kids to raise: 15-year-old bourgeoning hoochie Audrey (Hayden Panettiere), 10-year-old wisecracker Henry (Spencer Breslin), and five-year-old cutie Sarah (Abigail Breslin). After one too many screw-ups, Helen loses her cushy executive assistant position and has to take a job at a used car lot as a secretary making more money ($17.50 an hour) than anyone else living in Queens, where she now lives among the equally underprivileged. While Jack Amiel and Michael Begler’s screenplay for Martha Coolidge’s The Prince & Me was critical of the misogynistic fairy tales promised to young girls, their Raising Helen script is largely contemptuous of single young women, particularly those of the Sex and the City variety. Instead of taking dead aim at the modeling industry, this innocuous, egregiously wholesome defense of family targets Carrie Bradshaw, err, Helen instead. This party girl doesn’t know it yet, but birthin’ babies and finding a good man (preferably a priest: Sex and the City‘s John Corbett) is infinitely more fulfilling and acceptable than popping bubble wrap with a hot male model after a night on the town.
I've said it once, and I'll say it again: It should be illegal for Garry Marshall films to look as good as they do on DVD. For example: In chapter nine, Kate Hudson and John Corbett chitchat near a park (or church-who cares really?), and the colors are breathtaking (as is contrast). Throughout the rest of the film, there's scarcely any evidence of edge enhancement or dirt on the print. The audio isn't out of this world-just perfectly shrill.
I can't imagine what it must be like to listen to Garry Marshall on a regular basis. He's a pleasant guy, but his voice-call it a human dog whistle-makes it impossible to listen to his commentary tracks for more than a few minutes. I got five minutes into the track included on this DVD edition of Raising Helen, which he shares with writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, who mention that Molly Shannon was originally slated to play Joan Cusack's role. Rounding out the disc's supplemental materials is a dorky blooper reel, six deleted scenes, Liz Phair's video for "Extraordinary" (which embarrassingly splices the half-naked, ex-rock goddess into the film), trailers for National Treasure and promos for the upcoming Mulan DVD, Felicity, Popular, The Young Black Stallion, Hope and Faith, and Around the World in 80 Days.
As long as Cosmo girls exist, so will films like Raising Helen.