Given nine months to prepare, motherhood can still be a daunting task. However, it's even more challenging for a single career girl who finds she's suddenly the mother of three. Following the death of her sister, Lindsay (Felicity Huffman), and her brother-in-law Paul (Sean O'Bryan), Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) discovers she's been named as sole caregiver of their children.
Now being a terrific aunt is one thing. But trying to balance her demanding job at a modeling agency and her equally hot nightlife with parenthood is overwhelming-- especially when her high-powered boss (Helen Mirren) only icily agrees to the arrangement.
Helen's first realization is that her tiny New York apartment can't possibly house 15-year-old Audrey (Hayden Panettiere), 10-year-old Henry (Spencer Breslin) and 5-year-old Sarah (Abigal Breslin). After scanning the newspapers, she finds a bigger place in Queens and enrolls the kids at the local Lutheran school by fudging the truth about their religious background.
Still, her older sister Jenny (Joan Cusack) is none too happy with the arrangement. A devoted and conscientious mother, Jenny is hurt by Lindsay's decision to leave her offspring with the blithe blonde who obviously has no parenting skills at all. Believing that firm discipline and routines are important, she is also frustrated by Helen's haphazard schedules and lack of control.
On the other hand, dealing with everything from a defiant teen and dead turtle to unwieldy shoelaces is tough and Helen soon discovers that raising a family is an undertaking way beyond her present abilities.
Thankfully, she is blessed with lots of help, such as the kids' school principal, Pastor Dan (John Corbett). Handsome and single, the clergyman has exceptional insight when it comes to children and a growing interest in his students' new guardian. In addition, Helen's next-door neighbor Nilma (Sakina Jaffrey) is an experienced parent who welcomes the new family to the apartment building and is quick to come to their rescue-baseball bat in hand if necessary-should things get too wild. Even Jenny is readily available when Helen has the good sense to rely on her judgment and knowledge.
Director Garry Marshall delivers a refreshing mix of varied faces with diverse ethnic groups and age ranges, examples of the ups and downs of family interdependence, and moments of religious guidance portrayed in a positive manner. All three of these areas are seldom seen in mainstream cinema, yet come together here to form a touching and often funny story.
Although the film deals with death, some tense moments with a wayward teen and a few profanities, parents will welcome the well-rounded characters that bring a natural take on life in this romantic comedy/drama. Depicting how "family" can include a far wider range of people than those who share your genetics, Helen deserves to be Raised high at the box office.