Raising Helen

Gary Marshall, the director of the social dramedy “Raising Helen,” tends to make feel-good films that have only the flintiest foundation in reality. They are all fables, or fairy tales, with positive and uplifting messages, such as “Pretty Woman.” They all have major female stars at their center like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” or Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews in “The Princess Diaries.”

“Raising Helen” is yet another picture that employs the magical number of three sisters, each representing a type, or rather stereotype. The screenplay concerns a selfish career woman named Helen. When their middle sister is killed in a car accident, the eldest one assume that she will be given the responsibility of raising her children. But, to her shock (but conforming to audiences expectation), the kids are thrust upon Aunt Helen, the self-absorbed, immature careerist

The ensuing predictable film catalogues what might be “the basic education of Aunt Helen.” The script piles up accidents and crises, all familiar from other movies. The filmmakers arrange for Helen to have a beau, “Sex and the City” John Corbet, playing a pastor.

The director himself reported to have been perplexed by the poster for the film (and huge billboard on Sunset Blvd.), which is deceptive and misleading, showing a reclining Hudson in a mini sexy outfit in an alluring position

Star Kate Hudsons career seems to be in trouble. Though she physically resembles her mom, Goldie Hawn, Hudson lacks the charisma of her star-mother (who, incidentally, worked with Marshall on one of his and hers worst movies, “Overboard”).

Hudson began rather well, with “Almost Famous,” still her best work. For which she received a Supporting Actress nomination, and she continued with what still her only breakout hit, the romantic comedy, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”

Corbet is now typecast in what used to be the quintessential role of Kevin Kline and Ed Harris, the sensitive male-husband. Corbet has already played this role not only in the popular HBO series, but in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” among others.

Even so, there are minor rewards to be had, such as Helen Mirrens campy performance as Helens boss, Dominique, a tough, shrill woman whos head of the modeling agency. Her part is underwritten, but at least she has some nasty one-liners. In contrast, the gifted comedienne Joan Cusack is stuck with the worst part, a caricature of the ultimately committed wife-mother.

Most of Marshalls films are only a notch or two above TV sitcoms. The only exception to the rule is the well-acted melodrama, “Nothing to Lose,” with the young Tom Hanks. Neither significant as social drama (the female empowerment style) nor funny enough to qualify as a family comedy, “Raising Helen” falls flatly and badly in between these two genres.