A Little Bit Of Heaven
I want to ask, "what happened to Kate Hudson’s career?" But honestly, her career has been on the rocks since whatever film she did after "Almost Famous." A tremendously likeable actress, she has continually made safe acting choices in really generic movies with bland titles that tell little of what the movie will be about. (In all fairness, I’ll give her props for a star turn in "Nine" and "The Killer Inside Me.") That said, along comes her latest "romantic dramedy" with an all-star cast in what can only be described as a bigger-budget Lifetime movie.
"A Little Bit of Heaven" is the story of Marley Corbett (Hudson) a smart, beautiful, successful advertising executive (is there anything else?) who is so afraid of commitment that she uses humor to deflect any conversation that might veer toward seriousness. The men in her life are simply used for distraction and she claims to not want the usual cookie cutter life of a house, husband, and two kids. However, when she’s diagnosed with late stage colon cancer, she is forced to look at her life from a new angle.
From that synopsis alone you know exactly where this film is going. Sure there is the question of "will she or will she not" die, but there is nothing all that new following the reveal of her diagnosis. What it does have, however, is a charming cast and a warm tone that makes it all go down easy.
The issues with the film involve some silliness involving Marley’s character going to heaven - twice - and speaking with God who appears to her as Whoopi Goldberg. Not as "played by" Whoopi Goldberg, but AS Whoopi Goldberg. (God thinks it’s easier if He/She appears as something she’s familiar with.) God/Whoopi grants her three wishes. Why? I’m not sure. He/She is not a genie. But regardless, Marley can only can think of two wishes despite the fact that - you know - she’s dying and - I don’t know -"staying alive" might be a fun thing to wish for. Sadly, this gimmick feels stolen from an 80’s B-movie and makes the film feel too lightweight.
Meanwhile, Marley is surrounded by a gaggle of cute friends: gay bff Peter (Romany Malco), pregnant gal-pal Renee (Rosemarie DeWitt), and spunky co-worker Sarah (Lucy Punch.) Once the cancer is discovered, we also meet her divorced parents played by Kathy Bates and Treat Williams. There are also a few scenes with a little-person escort played by Peter Dinklage that momentarily elevates the film.
But it is her doctor that sets the plot in motion. Played dryly by Gael Garcia Bernal, Dr. Julian Goldstein (yes, you read that right) is a doctor with no social life as he spends all his time at work. (There’s a plot twist.) Somehow he and Marley click and suddenly he’s having inappropriate feelings toward a patient. Because Marley returns his affections (and in fact, pursues him), she soon realizes she might - gasp - have a third wish in her after all.
Again, there is nothing particularly new or fresh here and as a result, Marley’s journey tends to get confused. Is this about her letting go and allowing love in? Is it about her accepting the fact she was a crappy daughter to her mother? Is it about her jealousy of Renee for having the perfect family? Is it simply about her not deflecting happiness anymore by adopting a self-deprecating wit? In fact, it’s about all of these things, but in that, there is almost too much going on. We don’t know where to emotionally invest and we aren’t quite sure what problem to root for Marley getting over. There are moments, but we’re never sure what to grasp onto.
To be honest, Marley is pretty clear on what she wants and kind of handles her cancer and treatment like a trooper. (She does look fabulous through most of the film, despite chemo and undergoing a clinical trial treatment.) What we’re left with is a tepid romance (I never bought Hudson and Bernal as a couple), and a woman who - quite simply - has to get over herself.
I will say this: it’s not a train wreck. It’s an attractive looking film and Hudson shines. But is it a film to seek out at the theatre? No. Is it a film to go out and rent? Not really. Is it one of those you absently catch on cable on a day you don’t feel like getting out of bed? Yes. Absolutely. This might not be the best recommendation, but it’s not a total skip. If we could just get Hudson and her charms into a better film, she might be back on track to take over her mother’s crown. Until then, she’ll stay on autopilot in harmless little movies where she plays a spunky girl with a lesson to learn, usually via a cute boy.
"A Little Bit of Heaven" opens in limited release and on VOD May 4th.