No spoilers below, but I should also warn you I very much liked all of them, even the popularly and/or critically reviled.
This was a last-minute rewatch to remind myself how much I adore Kate Hudson's face in case the Glee premiere torpedoed that feeling, since I have this listed on my Top Ten Rom-Coms Of All Time.
Turns out: as a romantic comedy, it sort of fails. John Corbett is merely tolerable on the best of days, and when I first saw this movie (2005, I'm guessing; it's a 2004 release), I thought Kate Hudson was supposed to be at least 30, because Kate Hudson has always looked like 30 to me. She still does, hasn't aged a day in 10 years. Anyway, I'm now realizing she was actually in her early-to-mid 20s, and WOW, that is a whole lot of age difference, and not in a good way. It also seems extra squicky to be dating the pastor(/principal?) from your kids' school, I don't know why, it just does.
What works is that beyond one obligatory kissing scene, he is not really there as a romantic catch so much as to play Surrogate Stepfather near the end. Because that's what the movie is about - family. That's why I remember liking it, and I am 100% correct, not least because I knew I loved the idea of her raising her sister's kids, but I had somehow forgotten that the girls were played by Hayden Panettiere and a very tiny Abigail Breslin, a/k/a two of my all-time favorite child actresses.
And then I pretty much love everything that happens. Helen's high powered job, watching her go from superstar to flameout as childcare responsibilities take over; her hilarious new neighbor; struggling to meet all 3 kids' needs; her new job with all the heart and local charm (I want to work there); the encounters with her sourfaced surviving sister...everything. But mostly taking care of the kids. This movie is my happy place.
I Don't Know How She Does It
I do not understand the hate SJP gets for her movies, because I always love them (Mom says it's because we love her. Possibly). Literally the only things I did not like about this movie were the way they repeat the title about five times in dialogue before they are done, and
[slight plot spoiler that occurs in the first half]
the way Momo changing her mind about the abortion felt just sliiiiightly forced/shoehorned/cheese-tastic and not at all right for the character.
Even the couple of extended embarrassment scenes, which should have been mortifying, were glossed over so smoothly that I came out feeling fine, and nothing is worse for me than secondhand embarrassment. The movie also seemed extraordinarily clean, with quite possibly the smallest amount of swearing ever heard in a PG-13 film and at worst, a few sexual references that go right on by.
It wasn't hysterically funny, though it did make me laugh several times, but it was a wonderful family story with all kinds of heart. Her daughter's character description is basically to look disappointed with hugely exaggerated Basset Hound eyes, but she's still cute, and her 2-year-old son is so cute that EVEN I THOUGHT HE WAS CUTE, as his role is basically to be a puppy. So not kidding. He has only two scripted words, and his character description is basically to run around with shaggy hair, smiling and giggling and being cuddled by SJP. I would parent a 2-year-old boy if I could get one that smiled and was happy the vast majority of the tiime. Also, her husband is wonderful and supportive.
Did I mention how star-studded the cast is? Pierce Brosnan is literally the best character ever (I am not kidding. He is perfect, starting with the way he is totally unphased by the way she makes a fool out of herself in their first three meetings).
And, AND, the best part - I have finally seen Christina Hendricks act! And she is actually more amazing than hoped for. Maybe I just latched onto her character extra hard, but I have been admiring her for like 3 solid years in photographs but never seen her speak on camera. She was fantastic, probably my favorite person in the film, and there was a lot of competition. Olivia Munn's deadpan work robot "Momo" cracked me up. Busy Phillips as Wendy "I do everything perfectly" Best, the snobby and judgmental Professional Mom, was the icing on the cake.
Seth Meyers as the Designated Office Asshole was just funny. ("We're all very happy for her. Out of everyone, I would say I am the...least very happy for her? But we're all very happy.") And Kelsey Grammer as her boss, you can't go wrong no matter which way you turn. Oh! And Jane Curtin as the Judgmental Mother-In-Law, also the best.
Finally, a minor point, but the artistic text scratching out over various scenes was a potentially annoying gimmick that I felt ended up being very cute. Same for the cutaways to the talking-head portions.
I currently have it italicized on my watch list, but since I watched it again last night and still loved it, I think I might bump it up to bold.
I wasn't expecting to love this, mostly because I find Kristen Bell to be a rather boring person. But you know what the best thing is about this movie? Literally every 5 minutes, some other delightful person would appear. I think the only characters with a name who weren't a beloved or at least recognizable actor of mine were the younger brother and her older brother's friend. Even Ashley Fink showed up to spit a line, and I do NOT love her but at least it was like "oh heyyyy, you again."
Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Betty White, Odette Annable - these are the people you know from the cover. But did you know it also contains Victor Garber, Kristin Chenoweth, Kyle Bornheimer, James Wolk (Lonestar...and I will recognize him from nowhere else; what is this "Political Animals" of which you speak), and cameos from...well some of those would spoil the surprise.
[You want to be spoiled?]
[Cloris Leachman, The Rock, and Hall and Oates.]
ALSO: a cute shaggy mutt in a fairly substantial role for a dog.
The most painful part is probably when they talk about high school in 2002 and it's like "...no! stop! THAT WAS NOT THAT LONG AGO AND I WAS THERE AT THAT TIME. *sob*" At the same time, it always warms my heart to see high school depicted from the years I was there, so score. And Marnie? She was surprisingly charming. Not in a way where I need to run out and see Veronica Mars or anything, but for once she looked the age her character was supposed to be, and I couldn't help falling for her quirkiness.
The movie itself ended up being really funny - I sat down and watched it a second time with Mom. A lot of it was slapstick humor, which is fine by me (though I do prefer when it doesn't resort to covering people in gross muck and/or slime), but the two sets of rivalries going on amped up nicely. Plus, in the same way that Victor Garber is best at being everybody's dad, Jamie Lee Curtis is the best at being everybody's mom. Together, they make a Super Champion Parental Unit of Movies.
Also, I'm pretty sure I have about two years banked of being devastated by how handsome James Wolk is on the Lonestar posters and sad that he was never in anything watchable. BINGO. Today his entire role will be to play a perfect son, supportive/protective older brother, and lovable/doting groom-to-be. He even gets an equally pretty girl, which is such a rarity in movies these days that it would be worth watching even if everything else sucked. It is character perfection right here; he has won the game of acting.
Chenoweth as Georgia King almost made me happier than anything, I think. I may have squealed when she turned up so unexpectedly and was just a little ball of energy from start to end.
In conclusion: you should watch it when you need to cheer yourself up. And stick around through the glorious video-clip credits, because all sorts of little additional character moments happen, with Marnie being particularly cute.
I went into this knowing only one thing - once upon a time, I stupidly read eleigh's comments on it and have never been able to forget how it ended. That took away some of the suspense, but it was still definitely worth a watch. None of the songs turned into instant earworms, though I bet they could if I were to round up a soundtrack and play it on loop, but much like Smash, they all worked in the moment and added interest to the story.
Leighton Meester was precious as Country Barbie (sorry, Chiles Stanton), adding more weight to my theory that everything she has ever done is better than Gossip Girl, and what's-his-face had some definite aw-shucks country boy charm
Gwyneth Paltrow, per usual, continued to be the celebrity I don't really like as a person but am always compelled by on film, as she's really good at slipping into characters. It's also easy to sympathize with her. I could have gone for a recast on her husband*, who oozed so much sleaze from every pore I kept expecting him to slip and fall in it, but that was the only real drawback - how their scenes alone draaaagged along.
(*I'M SORRY, TIM MCGRAW WHAT? Why didn't I know this? How have I been hearing his name my whole life and apparently not known what he looks like? Does the absence of a cowboy hat and addition of a suit make that much difference? Apparently. [edit: Or maybe it's the clean-shaven look/addition of several pounds, based on a rough Google search])
Again, worth a watch; just a whole lot of heart and country charm. Worth noting for myself, really, because lately I have had a much harder time finding dramas that appeal to me. I may have been more engaged by it than The King's Speech. Don't tell anyone.