Review: A Little Bit of Heaven (2011)

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Cast: Kate Hudson, Gael García Bernal, Kathy Bates
Director: Nicole Kassell
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: A Little Bit of Heaven opens in limited release Friday May 4th.

Nobody ever wishes for cancer, but if you had to have it, wouldn’t it be great if it could be movie cancer? Aside from having to maintain a pale countenance and occasionally rest your head on the toilet bowl to demonstrate that—yes—you have been ill, even movie chemo seems a relatively pleasant course of treatment, the levels of pain and suffering never standing in the way of fun activities like hang-gliding and shopping sprees. Kate Hudson has movie cancer in A Little Bit of Heaven, a diagnosis handed her by handsome doctor Gael Garcia Bernal. It’s news that bodes poorly for her vivacious life of feckless salacity and incessant eroticism—progressive modern woman that she is—and causes her to look for deeper meaning in her encounters with men.

Aside from having to maintain a pale countenance and occasionally rest your head on the toilet bowl to demonstrate that—yes—you have been ill, even movie chemo seems a relatively pleasant course of treatment, the levels of pain and suffering never standing in the way of fun activities like hang-gliding and shopping sprees.

Dealing with the subject of grief and personal anguish in much the same way as P.S. I Love You—namely hiring Kathy Bates to act as the concerned mother—A Little Bit of Heaven looks at cancer with the kind of frothy and frisky lens adopted by many a modern chick-flick. And that’s no problem in itself; very few of us indeed will be fortunate enough to not have to deal with the big C at some point in our lives, why shouldn’t we be able to look at such dark things with an air of lightness and gaiety? The issue here is the film’s consistent failure to straddle the gaping chasm between playful sexuality and morbid pathos, keeping the experience divided into two tonally antagonistic halves, neither of which is ever as effective as it needs to be. One moment you have the aforementioned hang-gliding; the next a scene where Hudson bellows histrionically: “What kind of guy falls in love with a dying girl!?” A gleeful trip to the fashion boutique—funded by an ill-conceived plot contrivance offering cancer sufferers a great way to exploit insurance funds—descends into screeching reminders of “my cancer”. The wild and wanton overacting on Hudson’s part comes off less mental breakdown of a dying woman than flailing tantrums of a spoiled child, especially when contrasted so directly with such frivolous antics.

The issue here is the film’s consistent failure to straddle the gaping chasm between playful sexuality and morbid pathos, keeping the experience divided into two tonally antagonistic halves, neither of which is ever as effective as it needs to be.

The inability to convincingly juggle the contrasting tonal influences of the material isn’t the script’s greatest failing. Each and every element of the narrative feels recycled from another source; a drab reuse of a character or scenario we’ve encountered before. Hudson’s character, for instance, is not defined alone by her movie cancer: she also has to her name a movie career, where a planned presentation loftily tossed aside in favour of an impromptu engagement with the assembled suits’ personal lives quickly earns her promotion to become the youngest vice-president in the company’s history. Add to proceedings Bates’ leftover lines from P.S., stock characters like a gay best friend, and an odd turn from Peter Dinklage as a compassionate gigolo (the source of the title, despite his minor role), and A Little Bit of Heaven comes up even shorter than before. Whoopi Goldberg even turns up for a glorified cameo as herself, although not quite. In fact she plays God, appearing in the form he thought Hudson’s character would most like to meet him. It’s clear the Bruce Almighty-riffing part was written for whatever respectable actor was willing to take it; Goldberg does little more here than picking up a nice cheque.

Each and every element of the narrative feels recycled from another source; a drab reuse of a character or scenario we’ve encountered before.

In trying to establish its protagonist’s flirtatious zeal as a basis from which to evolve her as a dramatic figure in the wake of her diagnosis, A Little Bit of Heaven actually crafts an outrightly unlikeable character, a tiring innuendo-wielder free of the hidden depths the film seems to think she bears. Helped little by a cardboard cut-out assortment of supporting characters and the overbearing temerity of Hudson as she proudly enunciates again “my cancer”, it might be a film of honest intention, but its dramatic validity is destroyed in a bland mismanagement of comic sensibilities and personal growth. Movie chemo might leave out the reality of crippling nausea and general despair; A Little Bit of Heaven more than makes up for its absence.

[notification type=”star”]32/100 ~ AWFUL. In trying to establish its protagonist’s flirtatious zeal as a basis from which to evolve her as a dramatic figure in the wake of her diagnosis, A Little Bit of Heaven actually crafts an outrightly unlikeable character, a tiring innuendo-wielder free of the hidden depths the film seems to think she bears.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.