It revolves around Helen Harris (Hudson), an executive assistant for the president of a powerful modeling agency in Manhattan. She works hard and fixes every little crisis that happens on modeling shoots and within the office. After work, she goes out to clubs to socialize with her clientele while also being young and having fun.
Helen's content little world suddenly changes when her sister Lindsay and brother-in-law Paul die in a car accident. Helen and her other sister Jenny (Joan Cusack) learn that Lindsay and Paul left Helen in charge of their three kids: 15-year-old Audrey (Hayden Panettiere), 10-year-old Henry (Spencer Breslin), and five-year-old Sarah (Abigail Breslin). Convinced she can raise the kids and maintain her already fast-paced schedule, Helen quickly finds herself burnt out and disheartened by her responsibilities and by Jenny's lack of faith in her.
Screened in theaters with Disney animated short Lorenzo.
Raising Helen contains examples of:
- Big Applesauce : The film takes place in and around New York City, with some very specific location references. What the hell does "bridge and tunnel" mean, anyway?
- Christianity Is Catholic: The movie tries to subvert this, but kind of fails. When Helen enrolls the kids in a Lutheran school, she is confused about the difference between Catholicism and Lutheranism. However, the movie itself makes some mistake about Lutheranism. The school is called Saint Barbara's Lutheran School (Saint Barbara is a Catholic saint) and Pastor Dan claims that Lutherans believe in purgatory (only Catholics believe in purgatory). The one thing the movie gets right about Lutheranism is that Lutheran pastors aren't sworn to celibacy. One suspects they made the school Lutheran rather than Catholic just so it would be okay for Helen and Pastor Dan to hook up. In fact, it somewhat has the feel of a last-minute rewrite.
- Control Freak: Jenny, best illustrated when at the funeral they run out of napkins so she sends Helen to the store to buy some more.
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Helen must give up her fashion job and become receptionist at a used car dealership.
- "Friends" Rent Control : Both subverted and examined. A huge apartment in New York opens up but costs a fortune (nine thousand a month). It's not stated what Helen's original rent is, but she has a nice apartment that's too small for the brood. They then move to a large apartment in Queens for $1200 a month, which is realistic.
- High-School Dance: The film's climax happens around Audrey's junior prom.
- Replacement Goldfish: Helen replaces Henry's turtle when it dies. At the end, Henry reveals that he knew the turtle wasn't his original turtle, but kept quiet about it because it seemed important to Helen that he thought it was.
- Smoking Is Glamorous: Part of Helen's character. She smokes and the kids try to get her to stop.
- Who Will Take the Kids?: As the orphaned kids go not to their strait-laced, responsible older aunt, who already has a husband and a couple of kids of her own, but to the free-wheeling younger aunt. Neither sister really understands this decision until the end of the movie.