Film & TV

Drowning in Suburban Malaise on Long Island in "A Little Help"

"Suburban malaise" they call it, and it's the reason Long Island dental hygienist Laura (Jenna Fischer) self-soothes with afternoon Budweisers, jealously stews over her disparaging, workaholic husband (Chris O'Donnell), and lets her 12-year-old son (Daniel Yelsky) — a chubby ball of hormonal rage — walk all over her. An underdog family dramedy in the vein of You Can Count on Me or Alexander Payne's oeuvre, the directorial feature debut from The King of Queens cocreator Michael J. Weithorn has the pleasant production values, fine acting, terse one-liners, and fruitlessly overstated dramatics one might expect from a veteran writer and producer of sitcoms. Laura's hardest knocks come knocking after her hubby dies of arrhythmia during a blowjob, leaving her to be picked apart by her meddling mom (Lesley Ann Warren) and hypercritical sister (Brooke Smith), both of whom demand she sue for medical malpractice. And the little shit Laura spawned has begun telling classmates that his dad was a first-responder who died in 9/11 — an event that occurred a few months before the film's setting — making her an inexcusable accomplice in the lie. The film's title needs a question mark, as our drowning heroine must grab her own bootstraps, but for all its sincerity, the film is as average and forgettable as most CBS comedies. (Rated R)

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Aaron Hillis is a regular film contributor at Voice Media Group and its film partner, the Village Voice. VMG publications include LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.