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Country: Canada, Germany
Starring: Ashley Judd, Goran Visnjic, Lauren Lee Smith, Alexia Fast
Director: Sandra Nettlebeck
Run time: 119 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
Two things about Helen – Ashley Judd is sensational. And the movie is not. It’s decent. But it’s nowhere near as good as Ashley Judd’s performance. Much like Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, Judd’s performance is almost entirely wasted here. This is a movie about depression. Judd is Helen, and she suffers from a debilitating depression. The message of the movie is, pretty much, you don’t understand depression. If you have never had depression, then you can’t possibly understand what it’s all about. And I think that’s indubitably true. I don’t suffer from depression, and I do not fully understand it.
That being said, hammering it into me is not the way to get me to understand. Having not lived through it, I don’t understand the Holocaust either. Well, not in any meaningful way. But there’s a good way and a bad way to help people who are, basically, clueless understand these things. For example, if you want your audience to achieve a deeper understanding of the Holocaust, just showing a concentration camp for two hours is not the way to do it. Yes, the horror would creep under my skin quickly. And I would get it, at least a little, twenty minutes in. But twenty minutes after that, the movie would lose me. And I would become desensitized. And by the time the movie ended I would just think “that was unpleasant” and then I would forget all about it.
And so it is with Helen. Ashley Judd stares blankly into space, makes an effort to pass off her moods as “just being tired”, tries to hide her affliction, cries her eyes out, sobs and rages and withdraws and curls up in a ball and so forth. And she is outstanding. But after a while, I just don’t care. The movie has lost me within the first half hour, and from then on, I already get the point. Her husband is understandably frustrated, but he has no idea how to deal with her. Her daughter is frightened and angry, and can’t deal with the depression properly either. Friends try to be helpful, but give utterly useless and sometimes laughable advice. OK. I get it.
It’s one thing that Helen hits me over the head with Helen’s depression and the reactions of those around her. It’s another that it also uses a sledgehammer to drive home just how perfect her life ought to be! Her husband is a lawyer, and so nice, and caring, and handsome and charming! Her daughter is so lovely and talented and vivacious! Her job is fantastic – she gets to teach music, which she loves, to fantastic and talented students! You see, even this woman can be depressed and think of suicide. I GET IT! Now do something with the premise!
The movie does get going a little, toward the end, as Judd forms a bond with one of her students suffering from a similar affliction. (Although the young girl’s affliction appears to be more of a violent one, at least at first.) But by then it’s too late. Helen has lost me. And it comes off as a two hour Public Service Announcement for Depression Is A Real Disease. A Public Service Announcement that happens to star an unusually talented actress. All that’s missing is the telephone number scrolling across the bottom of the screen throughout. Helen comes to DVD July 27th from Alliance Films. It could have been worth it for Judd alone. But it’s not.