'A Little Bit of Heaven' is the overly schmaltzy tale of a Jewish Mexican doctor, played powerfully and with a great deal of depth by Gael García Bernal, struggling with his inability to tell a decent joke. And when your job is to inform patients they are dying of terminal cancer, delivering a well-timed joke to break the low-spirited nature of such news literally becomes a matter of life and death. Mentoring him in the ancient arts of comedy is Kate Hudson, who has about as much comedic talent as a lawn gnome.
The story centers around Hudson's character, a woman dealing with her mortality after being told by Bernal she is dying of cancer. Her happy-go-lucky, free-spirited personality, which according for the filmmakers means being allergic to a committed relationship, is suddenly brought to a halt by the news, but thankfully, her sunny, witty sense of humor remains unaffected. As time progresses, she comes to realize the important things which really matter in life, offered to her via three wishes granted from, I kid you not, Whoopi Goldberg as God. (Insert Picard Facepalm pic.) It's like writer Gren Wells thought it a brilliant idea to combine 'Love & Other Drugs' with '50/50' and make audiences suffer through a little bit of hell instead.
The worst part about experiencing this dreadfully maudlin film — as if not laughing for most of its 110-minute runtime, hoping Hudson could be remotely amusing for just one second, weren't enough — is that the entire script is made up almost entirely of trite, overused clichés and stereotypes. It's practically insulting for anyone who's actually gone through the experience of seeing a loved-one suffer from a malignant tumor. Truth be told, I did get a bit teary-eyed three-quarters of the way in, but for the most part, I felt as if the filmmakers were trivializing much of the condition's seriousness in favor of a rom-com formula and I was bored outta my gourd watching Hudson go through the seven stages of grief. And the little love affair between her and Bernal is utterly ridiculous.
I'm genuinely surprised I didn't care for 'A Little Bit of Heaven' a little more, because on paper, the premise seems at least mildly amusing, if perhaps unmemorable. Seeing Nicole Kassell attached as director also made me think the movie could have a chance. I really enjoyed what see did with 2004's 'The Woodsman,' starring Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. It's a remarkably well-made, tactful and emotionally gripping drama, especially considering its controversial subject matter. Here, she appears to want to bring that same level of thoughtfulness and respect to a serious issue and wraps it up with a dose of comedy — or at least, what she and Wells thinks is funny — but can't seem to pull it off in way that's involving or at all believable. Everything ends much too conveniently and Hudson is simply much too perky to be taken as somber.
The film's one saving grace — the one moment I sincerely laughed and thought it could win me over — was in seeing Peter Dinklage as a suave male escort. He is literally the one and only little bit of heaven in this otherwise terribly dull romantic comedy which tugs and yanks at the heartstrings with mawkish force. Seeing Lucy Punch work really hard at hiding her British accent also adds a bit of unintentional amusement. Then, there's Romany Malco and Kathy Bates doing very little except wait for the inevitable moment when the tears come streaming. The rest of the time is spent wondering if audiences still think of Kate Hudson as a movie star or as that actress from 'Almost Famous.' Or if they see her as that girl from the Matthew McConaughey movie, and that other one. Or as that one bride chick from that bride movie with Anne Hathaway. And the answer is, "Yeah, I think so?"
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Millennium Entertainment brings 'A Little Bit of Heaven' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc inside the normal blue keepcase. Several skippable trailers commence at startup before viewers are greeted by the standard main menu options with music and full-motion clips in the background.
Wow, even the photography in this movie is overtly sappy, begging desperately to be loved. Don't get me wrong, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode actually looks good, full of nice, bold primaries and full-bodied primaries everywhere, giving the video a lovely and warm quality. But the overall cinematography comes with a spirited yellowish appeal that sometimes comes off much stronger than others, depending on the emotional demands of a particular scene. Contrast and brightness are terrifically well-balanced, keeping everything lively and vibrant, except for a few sequences where blacks are either slightly off or come in too deep. In general, fine lines and objects are nicely detailed with several moments of great distinct clarity, but there are also many spots — quite a few, in fact — when the presentation softens noticeably. Still, the high-def transfer is pleasing to the eye, and many will find little to complain about.
The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, on the other hand, is surprisingly excellent and pleasantly engaging. It won't shake the foundation of your house or rattle the wall violently, but for a small romantic comedy, it's far better than expected. Being a character-driven story, vocals are very well-prioritized and intelligible, delivering the many emotional conversations effectively. The front channels display great balance and clarity, creating a wide spatial feel, particularly when the music fades in. Dynamics and acoustics are sharply rendered with terrific accuracy and fidelity while the low-end offers amazingly deep and precise bass to the several songs played. Rear activity is very subtle but audible nonetheless, enveloping the listener with an airy, sprawling soundfield that never feels overbearing or calls attention to itself.
Only one lonely little supplement.
From 'The Woodsman' director Nicole Kassell, 'A Little Bit of Heaven' is the overly schmaltzy tale of a woman confronting her mortality after discovering she has terminal cancer. Starring Kate Hudson and Gael García Bernal, the premise sounds like an overwrought made-for-television melodrama made purely to pull at the heartstrings — and for the most part, that's precisely what it is. The Blu-ray arrives with very good picture quality and a much better than expected audio presentation, but bonus materials are terribly lacking. The overall package is average, but Hudson fans are sure to find more enjoyment in this than I did.