A Little Help (2011) is an independent film set on Long Island, New York in 2002, nearly a year after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. Jenna Fischer plays Laura, a dental hygienist who drinks too many Budweisers and smokes a lot, whose marriage is mired in difficulties and suspected infidelity, and whose relationship with her twelve-year-old son, Dennis, is contentious and strained. Laura is suddenly widowed when her husband, Bob (played by Chris O’Donnell), dies during intimacy, unexpectedly, from a heart arrhythmia after visiting a doctor for chest pains that same day.
Her sister’s marriage is not faring much better, as her sister, Kathy, is controlling, domineering and rigid. Laura’s brother-in-law, Paul, admits to Laura in confidence that he was truly in love with her and not Kathy, but he married Kathy to be close to Laura.
After Bob’s funeral, Laura’s family calls her into her sister’s bedroom for a meeting. They want to tell her exactly what she should do now that she is on her own. They are an overbearing conglomerate. Her sister strongly advises her to see an attorney to get her finances in order, while her mother pushes for a private school for Dennis. When Laura refuses to send Dennis to the school, her mother goes on a tirade:
Without his father around, that boy is in trouble, deep trouble. And he needs more help than he can get from a mother who is nothing more than a spoiled, self indulgent teenager.
Her sister chimes in, “You bring this on yourself.” Laura acquiesces to her family’s demands and agrees to both the lawyer and the private school.
To fit in at the school, Dennis lies to his peers and says that his father was a fireman killed in the Twin Towers trying to save people. To Dennis, it is “cooler” than dying of an arrhythmia. When Laura first hears of the lie, she is stunned and tells Dennis that he must reveal the truth, to which he yells, “Oh My God, all you ever do is lie.” Dennis talks her into backing up his story about his father’s death. The lie works at first, as Dennis becomes popular at the school because of it. Laura even gets on board with the 9/11 lie. But things unravel when the lie is revealed.
When Laura visits the attorney referred by her sister, she is surprised to learn he is not retained to get her finances in order, but rather to file a medical malpractice claim against the doctor. At first, Laura does not want to file a lawsuit, but gives in to the lawyer’s appeal, given that he has told her that Bob didn’t leave her much money and her finances are in order.
Each step of the way Laura is talked into doing things over her objections – the private school, the law suit, the 9/11 lie. This is her life lesson.
Throughout the movie, everyone tells Laura how pretty she is. Her sister. Her brother-in-law. A man she with whom she has a one-night stand. Even her father tells her that she is “much prettier than your sister.” This may actually be the origin of the problem – people see her as nothing more than a fixture or an object to be pushed and ordered around.
Although the ending is somewhat unsatisfying, and some of the scenes did not strike me as authentic (i.e. the argument between Bob and Laura in her sister’s kitchen), the movie as a whole is acceptable as a slice-of-life picture in which Laura tries to find her own voice and strength. By the end of the movie, she seems well on her way to acquiring both.
I can recommend the movie as a rental to remedy a boring weekend afternoon.
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