Every actor afraid of being pigeonholed into a certain type of role has to do it. Jenna Fischer was in danger of becoming known as the cute, funny girl-next-door. It's a role she was destined to play. Her role as Pam on 'The Office' has pretty much solidified that. Still, it's clear that Fischer doesn't want to be typecast like that, so she does a complete about face in 'A Little Help.' While the movie itself is a fairly bland drama, Fischer shows her range as an actress.
Laura (Fischer) is a drunk, mother, and wife. She's good at being the first and not so good at being the other two. It's obvious that she and her husband, Bob (Chris O'Donnell), haven't been getting along for years. They're constantly fighting with each other. Their marriage has become so distant they might as well be living in separate houses. They have a son, Dennis (Daniel Yelsky), who has become withdrawn and antagonistic. He sees his parents acting like idiots all the time, it's bound to mess a kid up.
Then, suddenly, Bob dies and Laura is left to fend for herself. Trying to raise a son who she realizes she hardly knows. Trying to deal with an hostile sister and mother who don't think she's fit to run her own life. Perhaps they're right, but they go about everything in the wrong way. They try to force Laura to bend to their will. They tell her to sue the doctor who misdiagnosed her husband, even though she doesn't really see the point in it. They badger her day after day, she drinks beer after beer. It's a vicious cycle, and a weird one too. It's strange to see wholesome Pam Beasley knocking back a six-pack and sucking down a cigarette. But I guess that's the point right? We're supposed to believe that Fischer can pull off a troubled character role.
While Laura features all the age-old tripe when you're writing a self-defeating character – booze, smoking, swearing, belligerence – Fischer is still able to pull it off with minimal effort. Thinking of her as a wholesome, sweet girl only deepens her disturbed persona since that's what we're supposed to think of Laura. At one time Laura was a pretty, naïve girl who turned cynical and jaded once she got married. Her husband badgers her, her son berates her, and the next door neighbor's dog won't stop barking. It all adds up to one unstable lady.
Where 'A Little Help' falters is that it runs the gamut of clichéd independent drama storytelling. We have the unhelpful family members, the sudden death of a spouse, a love that could have been, a child that doesn't fit in, the one family member who provides the wisdom, the one that provides the chaos, and enough melodramatic indie rock music to fill up the soundtrack. There's nothing that stands out in this movie other than Fischer's believable performance. Everything else reeks of been there seen that.
It's not that 'A Little Help' is bad, it's just not memorable. We've seen characters with mean families and Laura's isn't mean enough to be notable. They're not quirky enough to be unforgettable. They're just callous and overbearing and that's it.
Laura's son offers the most remarkable storyline of the whole movie. A subplot in which he pretends with his friends that his dad was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It's really the only original bone that the movie has, and it works well. It's heartbreaking to think that this is what a regular kid might do if he was faced with this situation. Kids think that they're parents are larger than life, even if that means making up stories about them to feel better.
'A Little Help' has a good performance from Fischer and another from Yelsky. It isn't the best indie drama you'll see all year, but it isn't the worst either. It's one of those movies you'll sit down to watch and forget about ten minutes after it's over. Well, at least Fischer showed us that she isn't content with being Pam Beasley forever.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'A Little Help' has been released on Blu-ray by Image Entertainment. The movie is pressed onto a 25-GB Blu-ray Disc. It comes packed in your standard Blu-ray keepcase and is a Region A release.
What you get here is a pretty good looking 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. Being the low-budget indie movie that it is it doesn't have the greatest visuals in the world, but it does well with what it's been given.
Fine detail from faces and textures really stand out. Hair is very discernible and never seems to glob together. Woven textures on shirts and tops are very visible, especially during close-up scenes. Mid-range photography keeps a lot of detail too, with precise edges and clarity. Décor like house brickwork doesn't harbor a bit of aliasing. As a matter of fact I didn't notice any glaring artifacts or compression problems during the entire runtime of the movie.
Colors are bold and vibrant. Contrast is spot-on, giving skin tones a warm natural feel to them. Blacks are deep, but can be crushing during some of the darker scenes. In the end it isn't a perfect visual feast, but it doesn't need to be. It's basically everything you'd expect from a movie of this caliber, and perhaps just a bit more.
The audio is around the same general area. There's nothing flashy or extraordinary about this release's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, but that's because the movie doesn't really call for any spine-tingling sonically packed scenes. Everything is about the dialogue here, which is presented clearly through the center and front speakers.
Yes, the movie is decidedly front heavy, but there are a few instances where the rears pick up a bit of ambience. The parrot's voice at the beginning has an echoing aspect to it that travels around the soundfield. The movie's indie rock-infused soundtrack adds some weighty music to the rears as well.
LFE isn't really needed here, but does chime in every once and while whenever music from the soundtrack calls for it. This is a very serviceable, yet uneventful audio mix.
'A Little Help' is a straightforward indie drama with all the fixin's. There's nothing that really makes it stand out from the pack in that regard. Fischer's performance is good, showing us a bit of range that we didn't really know she had. Still, she's stuck in a movie that doesn't go much of anywhere at all. It may be worth a rental if you're a Jenna Fischer fan, otherwise it's nothing that you need to go out of your way to see. A rental/