'A LITTLE HELP'Jenna Fischer plays a put-upon working wife and mother facing life-altering changes in this TV-level indie dramatic comedy. Laura is a dental hygienist and a bit of a flibbertigibbet who spills details about her unfulfilling marriage while cleaning her captive listeners' teeth. Her husband (Chris O'Donnell) is withdrawn and possibly unfaithful. Their 12-year-old (Daniel Yelsky) adores dad but considers mom an embarrassment. When she tries to bond with him by singing in the car, he snappishly alerts her that he is no longer an infant. When her husband abruptly leaves the picture, the boy is transferred to a new school where he reinvents his absent dad as a 9/11 martyr. This makes him a cool, popular kid but horrifies his mom, already at the end of her rope from her bossy, interfering family.
The film suffers from an uncertain tone, playing serious situations for laughs while supplying Laura with a drinking habit and a hair-trigger temper that come across as problems rather than endearing foibles. Jakob Dylan contributed three middling songs to the soundtrack.
- ★★ out of four stars
- Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use
- Theater: Showplace Icon
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'IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT'
Since the late 1990s, members of the Earth Liberation Front committed multimillion-dollar arsons against animal slaughterhouses, lumber mills, ski resorts and ag research facilities (in 2002 they claimed responsibility for a $630,000 fire at a University of Minnesota plant-genetics lab in St. Paul). This important documentary tells their story through the experiences of Daniel McGowan, who was arrested on charges of terrorism for his part in several ELF attacks. The softspoken son of a New York City cop, he hardly fits the stereotype of a radical environmentalist. The triumph of Marshall Curry's film is the way it picks apart every presupposition we have about tree huggers, firestarters, riot police, prosecutors, snitches and timbermen. Watching it may not change anyone's ideology, but it will force you to see the players as complex people with understandable motivations.
Through newsreel footage and interviews, Curry describes the movement's birth, when a nonviolent protest against an Oregon parking lot escalated into a battle that radicalized both the greens and the police. Moving beyond civil disobedience, McGowan and other ELF members began a campaign of property destruction. McGowan soon regretted the approach, leaving the group and working for organizations opposing domestic violence. His arrest and trial is real-life drama that puts most police procedurals to shame. Curry shows that everyone, idealistic or misguided, has their reasons. That is what makes life so bedeviling, and movies that approach it honestly so valuable.