Sundance Review: Ashley Judd’s ‘Helen’

Normally, at this part in a Sundance review, I’m supposed to tell you what the buzz was like as I waited in line.

Can I let you in on a secret? Just between you and me? I didn’t wait in line. I snuck in, without a ticket or anything.

Knowing I was going to interview the stars on Saturday morning, and that I hadn’t been able to secure a “Helen” ticket, I thought I’d try showing up at the screening and talking my way in – y’know, research. But instead, three age-old tricks of the trade were reinforced to me once again:

1) Just keep walking
2) Pretend like you belong there.
3) When you reach important “check points,” pretend to Blackberry or talk on your phone, and just blow on through.

In no time, I was in a seat and the lights went down.

Now, let me just make one thing clear: “Helen” is a very heavy film. Heavier than Rosie O’Donnell at a Hometown Buffet. Heavier than a monster truck filled with anvils.

If you’re in the mood for despair, anxiety and suicide, you couldn’t pick a better film – fueled by an engrossing, awards-worthy performance by Ashley Judd.

If you’re not ready for a two-hour-plus film about depression, then you’ll want to stay away from this flick that sticks faithfully to the following formula:

1) Ashley Judd (or her equally despondent friend in the film, played quite well by Lauren Lee Smith) has a breakdown while doing laundry, cooking, etc.

2) Judd’s husband (Goran Visnjic) tries to understand
3) Somebody tries to kill themselves, but fails
4) For some reason, they’re released from the hospital.

Spin, rinse, repeat.

The result is a film that debuted to a church-like crowd Friday night at the Library. Not a single peep or fidget could be heard as Judd went deeper and deeper into her state of mental distress, unable to voice the pain that haunted her upscale housewife with the seemingly perfect existence.

The film is reminiscent of “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Dead Man Walking” and other flicks in that it’s riveting to watch, you leave feeling like you’ve just gone ten rounds with a prize fighter – and you never, ever want to watch it again. If you’re in the mood for that kind of flick, it’s the highest compliment.