A far cry from her days as the lovable Pam on The Office, Jenna Fischer proves she has range as both a comedic and dramatic actress, and she can do it all in the same movie.
A Little Help is a dramedy, set in post 9/11 2002, about what it feels like to be at your wits end and realize that everything is life is starting crumble.
Fischer stars as Laura Pehlke, a very ordinary wife and mother, who's always enjoyed the wind at her back. Things aren't quite as easy anymore and her life is sliding quickly downhill. Her real-estate agent husband, Bob (Chris O'Donnell), has been distant, her relationship with her son is frosty, her mother and sister are constantly putting her down, and she has taken up some unhealthy habits to cope with it all.
Things suddenly take a turn for the worse when her husband Bob (Chris O'Donnell) dies of a heart arrhythmia and Laura finds herself facing new challenges. Her mother and sister convince her to put her son in a new private school where he's made up a lie that his father was a firefighter in 9/11 and died a hero in order to fit in. She is also involved in a malpractice suit against the doctor who misdiagnosed Bob, possibly leading to his death, but she suspects it is because her husband lied about his condition.
Things start to ravel out of control and Laura becomes even more dependent on smoking and drinking, while trying to deal with her family and her unhappy son.
The film is real from start to finish. Laura is an entirely unlikeable character, yet we've all kind of been there - feeling helpless in the middle of a desperate situation. The script, written by director Michael J. Weithron (King of Queens creator), is very contemporary and organic. There's an authenticity between the characters and a natural flow in the dialogue.
The attention to detail and sensitivity toward the characters is evident in every single scene. There's one particularly funny scene where Laura is standing in the middle of a group of soldier being honored for her husband's bravery. Based on a sad situation, there are moments of profound humor and Weithron finds the perfect balance. This is love-project for the director and it's clear that that charm is in the details - details which are painfully examined and executed.
Fisher is convincing as the frazzled and lost Laura. She uses her comedic charms to create a kind of pathos for her character, but at the same time there's a bit of a pathetic edge to this woman who seems sorry for herself and unable to get out of the slump she's festered. She's weirdly unemotional about her husband's death and simply sits around letting other people tell her what to do. You want to shake some sense into this woman and tell her to get a grip, but at the same time, hug her and tell her it's all going to be alright.
Chris O'Donnell plays a small supporting role and doesn't appear in the film for too long, but he's a great addition to this charming cast.
Daniel Yelsky plays Laura's son Dennis with a bit of a lost puppy dog aura and it works. The kid just lost his dad, you can't expect him to be too exciting. Although Yelsky can come across a bit plain and boring, it brings a realism to his character that fits with the theme of the film.
Rob Benedict is the real charmer from start to finish - he plays Laura's doting brother-in-law, Paul, who is desperately in love with Laura and trying to cope with his overbearing wife (Brooke Smith). Benedict, with his boyish grin, charms us all and it's hard not to root for Laura and Paul, who seem so good for each other, even though you know it's totally weird and wrong.
A Little Help plays on the insecurities and struggles we all deal with, but in spite of its heaviness and the sadness that comes with a post 9/11 backdrop, there's a lightheartedness that gives us a sense of hope - for both the characters and the film as a whole.