A Little Help

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
A Little Help Movie Poster Image
One strong performance in otherwise negative adult drama.
  • R
  • 2011
  • 108 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

In a world where people are obsessed with work and money and no one is very admirable, the main character -- a sad dental hygienist/single mother -- is a perpetual doormat who tries to take out her sadness and frustration with various vices (drinking, cigarettes, smoking pot, and sex). She lies and treats her son fairly inappropriately, though viewers are asked to believe that she continues to learn and try.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character drinks and smokes too much, indulges in lies and bad behavior, speaks inappropriately to her son, flirts with infidelity, and allows her family to push her around. She's a perpetual victim, although she seems to keep trying. ...


Lots of shouting and arguing between various adult family members, most notably between a mother and her 12-year-old son (they say "you suck" and "shut up" to each other). A character dies suddenly in iffy (though not graphic) circumstances.


In an early scene, the main character moves off screen to give her husband oral sex. Later, she goes on a date and has some terrible-looking sex on a couch, though there's no nudity. She's also seen kissing her brother-in-law. Some innuendo. A death is caused by heart strain brought on by sexual activity.


Strong but not constant language includes several uses of "f--k" and "t-ts," as well as "c--t," "s--t," "goddamn," "ass," "Jesus," "crap," "balls," "twat," "bitch," and "a--hole."


The main character drinks a lot -- and it's always Budweiser beer. The brand is never mentioned aloud but is shown many times. She also drinks a Super Big Gulp and Absolut Vodka. Other brands include Skippy peanut butter and an Apple iBook computer.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A teen smokes pot in one scene. The main character drinks beer quite often (and vodka in one scene), but though there's some discussion of her "drinking problem," she's not shown to be an alcoholic. She also smokes cigarettes (and lies about them). A secondary character smokes pot in several scenes. Other characters are seen drinking lots of liquor at a funeral.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this indie drama (with comedy elements) about a troubled mom whose husband suddenly dies is filled with bad behavior and doesn't really have any positive role modeling. The main character's 12-year-old son spreads a huge lie, and she allows it. There's also a lot of arguing, sometimes between the mother and son. She drinks quite often -- sometimes vodka, but mostly beer (her beer of choice, Budweiser, is often displayed on screen) -- and there are hints that she has a drinking problem. She also smokes cigarettes, and a teen and a secondary adult character smoke pot. Language is strong, including "f--k," "s--t," "t-ts," and "c--t." There's no nudity, but expect some implied/off-screen sex and sexual innuendo. Teen fans of star Jenna Fischer's TV show The Office may be interested, but despite the fact that there's a prominent preteen character, this one is geared for adults. 

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What's the story?

In 2002 on Long Island, Laura (Jenna Fischer) is unhappily married to Bob (Chris O'Donnell), stuck with an overbearing family, drinking too much beer, and secretly smoking in the car. When Bob suddenly dies, Laura's equally unhappy 12-year-old son, Dennis (Daniel Yelsky), makes up a lie about how he was a 9/11 hero. Moreover, her family has arranged for a sleazy lawyer (Kim Coates) to sue Bob's doctor for malpractice. Laura knows it's wrong, but she needs the money. Laura slowly finds herself navigating a series of emotional pitfalls surrounding work, family, dating, sex, a noisy dog, and a lovestruck brother-in-law. Will she ever find peace?

Is it any good?

Michael J. Weithorn, a sitcom writer, producer, and director, makes his feature writing and directing debut here, and the result is a case of throwing in too much drama with too little payoff. Recounting the list of things that go wrong during the movie is an almost comical experience -- and, indeed, the movie tries to offer some black humor from time to time to lighten things up. The best and funniest it can manage is a patient's-POV shot of Laura working in her dentist's office, pestered by a noisy parrot squawking behind her.

All this stuff fails, and though the movie can't possibly wrap up all its dramatic threads in any realistic manner, the way it abruptly leaves off is just as dissatisfying. The upside is that all this drama gives Fischer plenty to do (even her girl-next-door beauty is a factor), and she doesn't waste the opportunity. Hopefully it will make a nice calling card for future, better movies.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the main character's drinking. Why does she drink? Is she an alcoholic? What message does the movie ultimately send about drinking?

  • Are there any admirable characters here? If not, what makes them interesting? Are any of them working toward something positive?

  • How does the movie portray mother-son relationships? Does it seem believable/realistic?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

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