Two Comedies from eOne Films
A Little Help (October 31/11)
A Little Help casts Jenna Fischer as Laura Pehlke, a struggling dental assistant whose downbeat existence takes a turn for the worse after her slick husband (Chris O'Donnell's Bob) drops dead of a heart attack - with the film subsequently detailing Laura's ongoing efforts at coping with the loss and moving on with her life. There's little doubt that A Little Help gets off to a nigh disastrous start, as the movie boasts an aggressively unpleasant opening half hour that's concerned primarily with the mean-spirited behavior among the various characters (ie they just argue so damn much). It is, as such, virtually impossible to work up any real sympathy for or interest in the protagonist's low-key exploits, with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by an emphasis on decidedly inauthentic elements (eg Laura's mother and sister confront her over financial issues during her husband's wake). There's little doubt, then, that the movie's transformation from unwatchable to passable is triggered by Kim Coates' scene-stealing turn as Laura's sleazy lawyer, as the film subsequently morphs into a middle-of-the-road drama that is, for the most part, elevated by its strong performances. (Fischer's impressively compelling work is matched by a quirky supporting cast that includes, among others, Brooke Smith, Rob Benedict, and Ron Leibman.) The adequate vibe persists right up until the predictably melodramatic third act rolls around, with the weak finish diminishing the better-than-expected midsection and ultimately cementing A Little Help's place as a well-intentioned yet misguided piece of work.
The Maiden Heist (November 1/11)
An affable little movie, The Maiden Heist follows three museum guards (Christopher Walken's Roger, Morgan Freeman's Charles, and William H. Macy's George) as they plot to steal their favorite pieces after learning that an entire exhibit has been sold to an overseas institution. There's little doubt that The Maiden Heist gets off to an appreciatively engaging start, as filmmaker Peter Hewitt, working from Michael LeSieur's screenplay, kicks the proceedings off with an irresistible sequence in which Walken's character imagines himself squaring off against several armed art thieves. It's a decidedly over-the-top opening that ultimately stands in sharp contrast to what follows, as The Maiden Heist is, for the most part, a gentle, easygoing comedy that benefits substantially from the efforts of its three leads - with Walken's refreshingly down-to-earth work anchoring the film on an impressively consistent basis. (Freeman and Macy are predictably stellar in their respective roles, with the latter's scene-stealing turn standing as an ongoing highlight.) It's worth noting, however, that The Maiden Heist's pervasively low-key atmosphere does prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting to the lackadaisical narrative, although, by that same token, the film demonstrably improves as it progresses and as the heroes' situation grows more and more perilous - with the movie's high-water mark undoubtedly a surprisingly tense sequence in which a naked George must hide from an intrepid nighttime guard. And though the film does peter out slightly in its final stretch, The Maiden Heist has otherwise established itself as an amiable endeavor that generally lives up to the off-kilter nature of its premise - thus confirming its place as a perfectly watchable (yet somewhat forgettable) piece of work.