By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The makers of A Little Bit of Heaven certainly get points for its level of difficulty, but then lose points for not recognizing the near impossibility of making this kind of hybrid work.
Formerly titled “Earthbound,” A Little Bit of Heaven is a coping-with-cancer melodrama as well as a star-crossed-lovers exercise that tiptoes in the direction of romantic comedy.
It’s a creepy-weepie approach that invites ridicule, which the film is likely to get more than its share of, to say nothing of the inevitable accusations that it trivializes cancer and that it is both tasteless and insensitive to people actually afflicted with the disease.
Still, somewhere inside this huge miscalculation, there’s a sincere attempt to wrestle with the serious issue of wrestling with grief, and the film represents an opportunity for viewers seeking a “good cry.”
Romcom queen Kate Hudson stars as Marley Corbett, a free-spirited, commitment-phobic, thirtysomething advertising executive in New Orleans who learns that she has late-stage colon cancer from her humorless oncologist, Julian Goldstein, a Jewish Mexican played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who looks uncomfortable and miscast throughout, and with whom Hudson has minimal chemistry.
The people in Marley’s life are devastated and struggle (as does she, naturally) to come to grips with her new reality, most notably her parents (Kathy Bates and Treat Williams) and her friends (Rosemarie DeWitt, Romany Malco, Lucy Punch, Peter Dinklage).
She undergoes chemo and experimental treatments and, during a morphine dream, gets to visit with an emissary of God in the form of Whoopi Goldberg, who grants her three wishes. You read that right.
And as Julian treats and attends to Marley, an ethically questionable romance develops between doctor and patient.
Director Nicole Kassell, whose last film (The Woodsman) was also dark and downbeat, bravely takes on a combination of elements that’s far beyond tricky. And if she doesn’t quite fight them to a draw, she still earns some respect for the attempt.
Although the film is being marketed as a romantic comedy, given its surface trappings, what screenwriter Gren Wells is exploring is mortality and ways of responding to a death sentence.
Hudson is actually effective in the lead, undercutting her signature bubbly radiance and showing us something other than — or, at least, in addition to — her usual sunny side, but she can’t quite overcome the stumbling block built into the premise.
Call the enterprise a “noble failure.”
So we’ll diagnose 2 stars out of 4 for a mortality melodrama that wraps itself around a budding comedic romance. Appreciative viewers will find the film cathartic, but for folks who find its overall approach unseemly, A Little Bit of Heaven just might feel like a little bit of hell.