What Really Matters

Three years ago, director Garry Marshall gave us what I called an "amusing coming-of-age story that celebrates, not twisted visions, but the things that really matter in life." That film was The Princess Diaries. This Memorial Day weekend, Marshall does it again in Raising Helen. As in the earlier film, it's a lesson about what really matters in life. When we first meet Helen Harris, she's an executive at a New York modeling agency. She's living what many would consider to be the dream life: fashion shows during the day, trendy clubs at night. She leaves the domestic life to her two sisters back in New Jersey. Then, one of them dies and, you guessed it, bequeaths custody of her three children, ages 15, 10, and 5, to Helen. Helen and the other surviving sister are, to put it mildly, surprised at the choice. Helen must now make the transition from the carefree life to being a parent and from being her 15-year-old niece's "cool aunt" to being an authority figure. As you would expect, the transitions aren't easy, and they become the source of both the humor and the drama. What's not expected, at least in the movies, is the biggest source of help: the local Lutheran pastor and principal of the kids' school, who becomes Helen's love interest. True, Pastor Dan Parker is better looking than 99 percent of the clergy you'll ever meet (this is Hollywood, after all). Still, a minister, solid and grounded, is the kind of guy Helen would never have noticed prior to becoming a parent. That makes him a symbol of how becoming a parent changes not only our perspectives but even our perceptions. Director Garry Marshall says that he was drawn to Raising Helen largely because of the role of the minister. He noted the negative way that religion and religious people are often portrayed in the media and felt that it was necessary to show that faith and the faithful make positive contributions to our lives. That may sound obvious to you, but think about the last time you saw a minister as the hero, or at least as an admirable lead, on the big screen. A man wearing a collar is usually, at best, an ineffectual dolt or, at worst, a rigid fanatic and the villain. According to Marshall, in Raising Helen, the pastor's presence is intended to reassure the audience that Helen and the three kids are going to be alright. The result is an entertaining acknowledgment of what every conscientious parent knows: Raising our children is the hardest and most important thing we'll ever do. Once again, this may seem obvious to you, but it's not an acknowledgment you see at the movies very often. This is especially so during the summer movie season, when you're much more likely to see kids, especially teenagers, operating autonomously in spite of their idiot parents. All of which makes the movie Raising Helen worth checking out. At a time when so much of what we see undermines the authority of parents and clergy, this film reminds us that what they can give us is what really matters. For further reading and information: Learn more about Raising Helenat the film's website. Note: The film is rated PG-13 for "thematic issues involving teens." Stephen Schaefer, "Kate's way: 'Raising Helen' star Hudson balances films with motherhood," Boston Herald, 23 May 2004. Sheri Linden, "Film Review: Raising Helen," Reuters, 10 May 2004. Nancy Chandross, "Looking for a Hero?" ABC News, 7 May 2004. "Golden Moments," ABC News, 7 May 2004 (20/20 interview with Kate Hudson). Donna Freydkin, "Kate Hudson's family ties," USA Today, 24 May 2004. Karen S. Peterson, "Gen X moms have it their way," USA Today, 14 May 2003. Megan Basham, "Motherhood on Trial," Boundless, 27 May 2004. BreakPoint Commentary No. 010816, "The Princess Diaries: A G-Rated Hit." Call 1-877-322-5527 to preorder Finding God in the Movies (Baker) by Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, available August 2004. The July/August 2004 issue of BreakPoint WorldViewincludes a cover story adapted from the book. Subscribe today! Robert K. Johnston, Reel Spirituality (Baker, 2000). Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews (InterVarsity, 2002). See BreakPoint's recommended films list. Also see other past commentaries and columns on movies.  


Chuck Colson


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