Raising Helen and A Slipping Down Life

Raising Helen

Opens Fri., May 28, at Metro and others There is zero hell-raising in Helen. To raise hell is to cut loose, and this flick is tight and spontaneity-free even by director Garry Marshall's sitcom standards. His characters raise heck, at best. Our ambitious, glamour-puss fashionista heroine, Helen (Kate Hudson), is an assistant to a cold, Anna Wintour–ish model-agency czarina (Helen Mirren). Then Helen's sister dies and dumps her with three cutie-pie orphans, generic 5-, 10-, and 15-year-olds. Everyone expected Helen's other sister, a square, frumpy hausfrau (Joan Cusack), to get them. Baby Boom and Three Men and a Baby are improv-comedy masterpieces compared to Helen. You're actually relieved to see Helen get booted from the fast lane for single surrogate parenthood, since the early fashion-world scenes are dead dull. Hudson is sparkly, Mirren is shiny, yet for once even the movie's trailer—where the kids disrupt a fashion show—is as perfectly representative and desperately inert as the rest of the flick. For Marshall, Pretty Woman and The Flamingo Kid are distant memories now. Still, Hudson never loses her twinkle, the kids are all pros, and things look up when they relocate en famille to a supposedly crummy (in fact palatial) Queens apartment. The disconnected family- bonding skits are a bit better than Jersey Girl's. John Corbett reprises his Big Fat Greek Wedding kindly-hunk role as Helen's low-testosterone love interest, a part that's wearing as thin as his hair. The shopworn script is worn even thinner. So why isn't this an unqualified pan? Because the movie comes to life from time to time—chiefly because of Marshall's affectionate handling of his supporting players. When Helen gets a job at a used-car lot run by an honest schlumpf (Marshall's favorite actor, Hector Elizondo), it's obvious and contrived yet infectiously good-hearted. Cusack injects some energy whenever she gets to get mad—you wish the camera would just follow her around and forget about the less-talented leads. Mirren is just slumming, but her brusque precision gives all the sickly sweet schmaltz a bracing dash of tartness and good taste. Hudson may yet deliver on the glimmering promise she showed in Almost Famous. Even if she can't yet carry a picture, she can carry about half her scenes, so I haven't given up on her yet. Marshall is a different matter. His happy days as a sitcom auteur are all in the past. (PG-13) TIM APPELO A Slipping-Down Life

Opens Fri., May 28, at Uptown Why do the "weird" girls in movies always wear drab '50s skirts and formless shirts? Evie Decker lives in an oppressively old-fashioned house in a small Southern town with her sweet but equally old-fashioned father. Because her mother died during childbirth, we can only assume she wears her mother's mousy clothes in remembrance; Evie—played awkwardly by Lili Taylor—is as nostalgic as she is weird. Terminally alone Evie listens to the dedication line on a local radio program every night as she turns a snow globe around and around and ponders her dreary life. She's jarred out of her fog one evening when she hears an improbably named singer/songwriter, Drumstrings Casey, do his phony Jack Kerouac shtick. It doesn't take long before she launches into a full-blown obsession with the guy: One night in a club bathroom, she even carves his name into her forehead. Drumstrings (Guy Pearce), persuaded by his sweaty manager, takes the kook on as a marketing trick. The two weirdo loners eventually fall in love, and before we know it, they're getting married . . . and then splitting up. Life is based on a 1970 novel by Anne Tyler, which may explain some things about its jarring failures. Maybe all love-besotted girls carved their crushes' names on their foreheads back then—it was the '70s, right? And with the benefit of time and authorial guidance, the novel probably makes the romance between Evie and "Drum" (as he's called) less abrupt. Here, you never believe that these two are really in love. There's some mumbo jumbo about Drum's words giving Evie the sense that she's somehow known him all her life, but that's a cliché that smart moviegoers were sick of long ago. (Then again, this movie has been sitting on the shelf for five years after screening at Sundance '99.) Now how to explain the inelegant performance of the usually tenable Taylor? I blame the casting director and the goofy script, which also renders Pearce a real dolt. Taylor might've been good for this role 10 years ago—when Evie's innocence would've suited her age. Long after I Shot Andy Warhol and Household Saints, however, Taylor is a full-grown woman sent to do a little girl's job. But there's good news: Her next gig is for her Warhol director, Mary Harron, playing the lead role in The Ballad of Bettie Page. Make way for more '50s skirts—but at least these will probably be flattering. (R) LAURA CASSIDY info@seattleweekly.com

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