The independent dramedy. So full of cliches and quirkiness. And yet, I tend to have a soft spot for them. Enter A Little Help. A small film with some laughs and some tender moments.
Laura (Jenna Fischer) is not having her “best life now” as a famous (ahem) preacher in the states would probably put it. Far from it. She seems immature and desperately looking for something to numb the pain in her life. She drinks beer, lots of beer, when she’s not at work serving as a dental hygienist. Her son Dennis (Daniel Yelsky) and her do not have a close relationship. In their first scene together, Laura picks up Dennis from summer camp. Her conversation screams desperation as she cops the attitude of “I want to be your best buddy” rather than being a mom. Dennis is having none of it. He wants his dad (Chris O’Donnell). The problem is that dad (Bob) has been working late a lot recently and is rarely around for his son or wife.
In order to save face with the family, Laura pleads with Bob to make it to a family BBQ to celebrate her sister’s teenage twins’ birthday. It’s apparent Bob hasn’t made many of these family gatherings and Laura can’t stand the thought of yet another without her husband present. Not that it matters much. Mom is overbearing and sister, Kathy (Brooke Smith), follows in mother’s footsteps.
There are a number of laughs watching these family dynamics take place during a forced gathering. It’s evident that no one wants to be at the birthday celebration, including the twins whose birthday is being celebrated. The acting is solid overall and makes a mostly unlikeable cast of characters at least bearable if not always laugh out loud funny.
Laura and Bob get into a loud argument in the kitchen which leads Laura to run out of the house with Bob in tow. Bob runs down his sister-in-law’s driveway only to fall to the ground clutching his chest. Bob goes to the hospital and the doctor tells him it’s likely a panic attack since this, according to Bob, is the first time this has happened during a physical activity. Later that evening Laura feels bad and tries to make it up to her husband only to have him have another attack and die. Yes, he dies. And, no, that’s not a spoiler.
Life without husband and father changes things for both widow and son. The humor becomes darker as Laura and her son do little to actually come to terms with their grief. In a sense, both were grieving just as much before so not much has changed for them. But the realities sink in for both. The sadness they felt before becomes greater as they realize just how much life is changing, whether they want to deal with it or not.
There is a revelation in the later half of the film that isn’t unbelievable but felt forced. And while the acting overall is solid, most of the characters tend to sway towards indie quirkiness for the sake of laughs. That is forgivable when the laughs come, but harder to accept when the dramedy wants to put emphasis on the drama.
I enjoyed A Little Help for what it is and respect it for not trying hard to be what it is not. It doesn’t make attempts to be a laugh fest nor does it try hard to delve deep into the psyches of its characters, taking itself too serious. The situations and people in them are sometimes funny (albeit in a sad/awkward manner) and sometimes not. Kind of like life can be at times.