Friday, May 4, 2012

A Little Bit Of Heaven

A Little Bit Of Hellfire, Undaunted By Angels

Kate Hudson as Marley Corbett and Gael Garcia Bernal as Julian Goldstein in "A Little Bit Of Heaven". 
Millennium Entertainment


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, May 4
, 2012

In one of the year's most shrill and overwrought films, the awkward and absurdly caricatured "A Little Bit Of Heaven" will have few equals in the trash compactor of bad films of 2012.  Kate Hudson (in her best performance since "Almost Famous" -- and that was 12 years ago) stars as Marley, a contemptuous marketing associate in New Orleans who is diagnosed with colon cancer.  Marley's dear friends Peter (Romany Malco), Beverly (Lucy Punch) and Renee (Rosemarie DeWitt) all struggle with the reality that their best friend will soon die. 

Before the inevitable happens Marley has a couple of friendly run-ins with God (Whoopi Goldberg, appealing and funny in a small role) and a rendezvous with handsome doctor Julian Goldstein (Gael Garcia Bernal), whose name Marley makes fun of.  Dr. Goldstein has given Marley the bad news but any boundaries and protocol between doctor and patient will soon be forgotten as the two have a roll in the hay. 

Nicole Kassell's drama veers from one strange episode to the next; Marley has a boardroom presentation on condoms that lacks an appreciable punch line but moreover sits out of place in the film.  Many other scenes leave you asking, "what on earth is this here for?"  Apparently Marley is something of a harlot, and numerous references to the same proliferate the film -- such references grow ever stale by the second.  Scenes throughout belong in other movies.  As admirable as Ms. Goldberg is here her work is wasted.  More of Ms. Goldberg's charisma is wanted in this film, which should have been titled "Whoopi Can Wait".  At least that title may have more accurately summed up Marley's attitude as an enfant terrible.

Mr. Malco is first glimpsed in nothing but his skivvies (why?) in what will later be just another transparent and surface look at a gay character.  Before we realize Peter is gay we tend to think that Peter and Marley are lovers, which might have been more interesting than the pretty-boy doctor who essentially takes advantage of his dying patient.

Gren Wells wrote the screenplay for this muddled film but the development of the situations that the fearless Marley finds herself in is wanting.  There's a cameo by a well-known actor that is puzzling to say the least, and Ms. Hudson and the director try to eat their cake and keep it at the same time in a "girls just want to have fun" kind of way.  Fun with cancer?  What a cute concept!  But will it play in Peoria?  Will it play anywhere after one week in theaters?

"A Little Bit Of Heaven" wants to be a sincere film while giving its defiant lead character a showcase to bite off the heads of those who feed her before she heads to the big blue yonder.  A film can oblige itself with having unsympathetic characters but unsympathetic characters without shading or nuance as in Marley's case -- even in a film like this one angled as a comedy-romance -- is a crime.

Kathy Bates does what she can to balance out the film's fading sunshine as Marley's mother Beverly, who tries to push husband Jack (Treat Williams) to patch up his distant relationship with their daughter.  Mr. Williams is the one great reassuring presence in this gloomy, frenzied exaltation of a terminal brat.  He plays Jack as a man who behaves as if he's in a drama of substance, not a comedy that has gaping holes of insecurity running right through it.  "A Little Bit Of Heaven" could be the words to describe Mr. Williams' approach to acting here but the film hardly deserves his touching, effective performance.  Mr. Williams adds the emotional weight that Ms. Hudson's lead role should have. 

Having said that, Ms. Hudson isn't dreadful by a long shot, and playing an unsentimental cancer patient (unlike Julia Roberts in "Steel Magnolias") would be seen as a risk for her, but somehow Goldie Hawn's golden gal wades through this thankless material without drowning in it.  The other  performers generally fall short in their endeavors.  Some of their work (and much of the film) feels forced and mannered.

"A Little Bit Of Heaven" is jumbled together as light, fluffy cynicism and puerile manipulation.  Some will fall for it, and good for them -- but there's nothing in this long, drawn out mess of a film that merits even crocodile tears from the audience.

With: Steven Weber, Alan Dale, Jason Davis, Johann Urb, James Hebert.

"A Little Bit Of Heaven" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sexual content including crude references, and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 46 minutes.

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