Will relationship-phobic Marley Corbett embrace coupledom by the end of this latest Nicholas Sparks-style weepie? Does Kate Hudson star in shitty movies? Well, she headlines this one as the aforementioned Marley, introduced in an opening sequence singing the virtues of casual hookups and decrying the marriage-and-children-lifestyle of her good friend Renee (Rosemarie DeWitt). We soon learn that this self-proclaimed slut is also a rising star at a top New Orleans ad agency. Surely this combination of sexual agency and career orientation on the part of a woman cannot be allowed to stand. And thanks to the introduction of a late-stage round of colon cancer, it doesn’t.
Nicole Kassell’s A Little Bit of Heaven doesn’t totally embrace the terminal-illness-as-punishment-for-promiscuity angle (the film seems to take too much pleasure in Marley’s free spirit to condemn it in such cruel terms), but it certainly uses it as a springboard for her to reevaluate her life. Unfortunately, that reevaluation involves her coming (way too easily) to terms with her daddy (and mommy) issues, revealed in a round of reductive characterization as the reason for her unwillingness to commit. That latter disinclination is tested when she meets and falls for her hunky doctor, Julian Goldstein (Gael García Bernal), but still holds on to lingering tendencies to push him away. By the end of the film, Marley has predictably come around on the relationship question and, while she won’t live to have kids, she at least envies her pal Renee’s domestic bliss.
But unsurprisingly for a film detailing terminal disease, this is a largely solemn affair, often verging on morbidity in its elongated deathwatch. A Little Bit of Heaven attempts to lighten the load through Marley’s sass—which rarely wavers even as she approaches death, and which seems a bit of a forced affectation coming from trying-too-hard Hudson—and through a pair of unfortunate supporting appearances: Whoopi Goldberg, who shows up in a trio of near-death hallucinations as God to confirm Marley in her personal progress, and Peter Dinklage as a gigolo whose chief role is to humiliate himself based on the assumption that little people couldn’t possibly be desirable sex partners. Only García Bernal’s low-key charm and the film’s willingness to focus as much on Marley’s relationships with her tight-knit circle of friends as it does on the central romance keep this film from falling completely down the twin traps of dour, desperate comic relief and reactionary sexual politics. But a film this poorly conceived and executed can’t help but reveal its own status as dead on arrival, a fact that becomes clear far before Marley gets her own terminal diagnosis.