Raising Helen
dir. Garry Marshall
Opens Fri May 28
Various Theaters

Mothers' Day doesn't have to end! If you can't get enough of that springtime female energy, drag it out by seeing Raising Helen, the latest from cheese-peddlin' director Garry Marshall. It stars Kate Hudson as glamorous party girl Helen, who is entrusted with the custody of her dead sister and brother-in-law's three kids. Not that Helen's deft enough to walk a tightrope, but it does perform a precarious balancing act between the gravity of its plot and its image as pop-culture confection. It's a dynamic that might have worked if it was a darker comedy.

In fact, even the trite, lighthearted route taken by Marshall didn't end up being very funny. The kids have about as much dimension as cardboard cut-outs, and aren't very winning anyway, plus the film is surprisingly dramatic, so that most of the "funny parts" just end up seeming sad. Hudson actually acts the hell out of a flimsy role, and although that's a little frustrating, her likeability and development are completely what keep the movie engaging.

However, someone must have lost a bet when it came to casting Hudson's romantic interest. Irreverently enough, John Corbett plays "Pastor Dan," the principle of the kids' Lutheran school. Corbett is at his least sexy ever--paunchy, pale, and moist-looking. The pairing of him with a youthful Hudson is more than a little perverse. In addition, their relationship is incredibly shallow and vague, which is a fairly shocking oversight, script-wise, considering how deeply this movie wants to pull at your heartstrings.

Joan Cusack does her usual thing as Helen's other, surviving sister Jenny, an aggressively pregnant lightning rod of maternal sentiment. During the second half of the movie, her character gets more interesting, but she, like Hudson, is overqualified for the role.

Despite its flaws and weightlessness, Helen is pretty absorbing. It's just good enough to keep you interested, yet falls short of any real emotional resonance. You might find yourself more concerned with trying to guess who designed Helen's handbags than with the story, but that can be fun too. Either way, it's the mid-20s single chick's grownup version of playing with Barbies.