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A Little Help


Jenna Fischer needs no 'Help,' giving a range-widening performance.

Rod Lott October 21st, 2011

Although "A Little Help" tries to make us believe it has presented "The Office"'s Jenna Fischer unattractive — as if! — the dramedy is worth seeing, assuming your expectations are kept reasonably in check.

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She plays Laura, a dental hygienist who all but ignores her only child, Dennis (Daniel Yelsky, "Meet Monica Velour"), with her overworked hubby (Chris O'Donnell, TV's "NCIS: Los Angeles"), with whom she argues who checked out of their marriage first. Doesn't matter, because he dies of a heart attack while on the receiving end of oral sex, leaving Laura and Dennis high and dry.

The film is all about them coping — or not — with his death, and a sheer inability to move on, at least with any sense of normalcy. Dennis, for instance, tired of just being the fat kid in school, tells his classmates his father died tragically in 9/11, and wins instant popularity. Laura, for another, goes to work the day of her husband's funeral, justifying her actions because it's "not until 3."

Meanwhile, her sister (Brooke Smith, TV's "Gray's Anatomy") pushes her to sue for medical malpractice, and her brother-in-law (Rob Benedict, TV's "Head Case") confesses he married the wrong sister, and ... well, if there's a big swing to take at "A Little Help," it's that it has too many subplots it could stand to trim. (I'd start with the one that involves doo-wop legend Dion playing himself.) First-time feature director Michael J. Weithorn bites off more than he can chew in his move from a sitcom career (most recently with "The King of Queens") to movies; for all his ambition, he fails to reach a satisfying conclusion.

However, Fischer takes the opportunity she's been given and seizes it. You'll quickly stop thinking of her as Pam, and start buying her act as a miserable, secret-smoking, possibly alcoholic wife and mother. Again, I believed every part of it except for that part about her husband refusing to have sex with her with her for months because she's supposedly unpresentable. What is this, science fiction? —Rod Lott

 
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