A Little Help

Apart from Steve Carell, the cast of The Office hasn't had much luck breaking out as front-and-center movie stars, perhaps because that hit show so resolutely commodifies and reinforces their ordinariness. Alas, A Little Help will not much help transform that track record, even though Jenna Fischer turns in an engaging, pleasantly addled performance as a self-medicating Long Island dental hygienist who must grapple with some serious life changes.

Written and directed by Michael Weithorn, the co-creator of The King of Queens, A Little Help centers around Laura Pehlke (Fischer), whose life gets turned upside down when her possibly philandering husband Bob (Chris O'Donnell) passes away and leaves her on shaky financial footing, further calcifying the emergent remoteness of her chubby 12-year-old son, Dennis (Daniel Yelsky). While a strengthened friendship and possibly more with her brother-in-law Paul (Rob Benedict, above left) develops, Laura also finds herself wrapped up in two lies — one told by Dennis at his new school, that his father was a 9/11 hero, and the other involving a malpractice suit over Bob's death that Laura knows to be based on false pretenses.

Weithorn's film aims more for winsome poignance than ha-ha funny
, but, flatly, the more dramatic material and particularly the mother-son stuff here doesn't especially play, in part owing to some performance issues, but also because the stakes are so ill defined. Much more interesting, if only kind of fitfully engaged, are the pressures Laura feels from her snippy mother and sister (Lesley Ann Warren and Brooke Smith, respectively), and the burgeoning relationship between Laura and Paul, an affable, henpecked guy who's come to feel boxed in by life and his wife. Despite some interesting characters, A Little Help never quite convincingly locates a singular tone or point of focus that would kick it up and make it recommendation-worthy. For an interview with Weithorn, meanwhile, click here. (Freestyle Releasing/Secret Handshake Entertainment, PG-13, 108 minutes)


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