By far and away the main thing that made me want to direct A LITTLE HELP was the wonderful script. Now, I should mention – I wrote the script. So perhaps in a sense I was not approaching it objectively. But I still liked the script a lot.
At the risk of sounding pretentious (a risk I’ve taken before, usually to poor results), the original inspiration for this film was my deep admiration for the works of Vittorio De Sica – “The Bicycle Thief,” “Umberto D,” “Two Women,” among others. What astounded me about these films, when I first saw them, was the way in which De Sica created absolutely compelling, moving drama from the most aggressively ordinary, mundane events in ordinary, mundane lives. And, while never idealizing his characters or the world in which they lived, he was still able to create credible, powerful moments of emotional triumph for them – always organic and truthful, never deus ex machina.
Duly inspired and humbled, with A LITTLE HELP I sought out to create a contemporary world of recognizable people in various states of ordinary yet wrenching emotional crisis, and to allow them to find some degree of resolution and growth (and to make it somewhat funny, or at least funnier than “The Bicycle Thief”).
At the center of the world sits Laura Pehlke (Jenna Fischer) – a 35 year-old woman for whom the wheels of life have always been greased, to some extent, by her good looks and ebullient personality. But life catches up with even those so blessed, and when the film begins Laura is struggling to understand how she is suddenly drowning in an eddy of events she cannot control. Central to all this is her relationship with her 12 year-old son, Dennis (Daniel Yelsky), who has always adored her but has recently turned hostile and resentful. When Laura’s husband (Chris O’Donnell) dies suddenly and Dennis is left fatherless, things are pushed to the crisis point as Laura struggles to figure out how to give love and support to a boy who desperately needs it but cannot allow himself to ask for it.
While this is not a “9/11” film in any formal sense, it is set in New York in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and the resonance of those attacks do provide an emotional backdrop for the film – the way in which they caused intense emotional disorientation and loss of confidence in the reliability of the familiar structures of our own private worlds and the world at large.
And yes – at least to some degree – this is a comedy. And that dissonance is absolutely one of the central ideas of the film: that in our lives, in every moment, the intensely dramatic, the heartbreaking, the ridiculous, the absurd – all dance together.
Michael J. Weithorn