Monday, May 7, 2012

Sickly sweet "A Little Bit of Heaven" a lot like Movie Land

A Little Bit of Heaven (2012) 
106 min., rated PG-13.
"A Little Bit of Heaven" wouldn't sound like a bummer of a movie about colon cancer. That's because the title refers to Peter Dinklage as a dwarf prostitute, but more on that later. Far removed from the disturbing subject matter of pedophilia in her 2004 feature debut "The Woodsman," director Nicole Kassell's bizarre, sickly sweet grab-bag of romantic comedy, disease-of-the-week melodrama, and heaven fantasy is her sophomore slump. Since the film lives in Movie Land, colon cancer comes with a hunky doctor, Macy Gray on the soundtrack, Whoopi Goldberg as God, and a shopping day of splurging! Dying never looked so cutesy and hokey.

Living in her quaintly charming New Orleans apartment (with a swing in the kitchen!), Marley (Kate Hudson) is a saucy, happy-go-lucky ad exec with a pet bulldog, good friends, and a boyfriend she breaks up with. But during a doctor's appointment with Dr. Julian Goldstein (a charming Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal), a sexy Jewish-Mexican doctor who can't tell jokes but has a yo-yo collection, Marley gets a colonoscopy and has a dream chitchat with Whoopi Goldberg as God (played by, yes!, Whoopi Goldberg) who breaks the news that she's dying…from colon cancer. Along the way, she quits her trial of chemotherapy treatment, goes hand-gliding, falls in love with Julian, and even at one point takes him to a drag-queen club. At one point, her friends even call in a dwarf prostitute (Peter Dinklage, who deserves better) to rock her world, but they end up banging on her door to pretend they're having loud, amazing sex. While mending her relationship with her parents (Kathy Bates and Treat Williams) and planning her funeral as a celebration that puts the "F-U" back in funeral, Marley tries living her short life to the fullest.

It seems that ever since 2000's "Almost Famous," which was no fluke, Kate Hudson is still trying to find herself as an actress. Having starred in a string of indistinguishable romantic comedies (2003's "Alex & Emma," 2008's "Fool's Gold," 2008's "My Best Friend's Girl," etc.), she's always a perky, sunshiny presence that must have been passed on from mother Goldie Hawn. Hudson is basically playing her Helen character from "Raising Helen" with a commitment phobia, just less ingratiating and empathetic. But here, she at least looks realistically tired and less glamorous with bags under her eyes as the cancer gets worse. After acting cavalier toward her parents and friends, Hudson's Marley proceeds to drink a bottle of bourbon on her bicycle and almost gets hit by a car. It's like she's just asking for it. Lucy Punch is great in everything, infusing her roles with cool, oddball energy, but here she's just stuck in "the friend" role, playing kooky co-worker friend Sarah. Always excellent, Rosemarie DeWitt turns in fine work as pregnant best friend Renee. Beyond wearing pastel shirts, Romany Malco thankfully doesn't overplay the "gay neighbor" role of Peter. Goldie Hawn must be living up her supposed retirement because Kathy Bates plays Marley's long-suffering mom, but she conveys the most emotional heft.

"A Little Bit of Heaven" marks the writing debut of Gren Wells, and the good news is she should get more work for the Lifetime Channel. Bad idea piled upon bad idea, this would-be weeper rings false and can't find a consistent tone that works to save its life. If you put words like "gay best friend" and "cancer" into a hat and pull them out to write a script, you'd have put as much thought into the film as the makers did. For a film that more poignantly handled the final months of a character with cancer, don't miss last year's "50/50." That film was half-tragedy and half-comedy and walked the tightrope beautifully. 

Though a notch above 2001's groaningly melodramatic "Sweet November" (where a deathly ill Charlize Theron shacked up with Keanu Reeves), "A Little Bit of Heaven" is still incurable and insulting for glossing over an illness such as cancer. When we all knock on death's door, we'd be lucky to share a glass of champagne with Whoopi.

Grade: D +

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