Kate Hudson goes through the five stages of rom-dramedy grief — I-will-survive perky; shop-till-you-drop denial; I-need-a-makeover anger; walk-in-the-rain pouty; bop-to-the-pop acceptance — in “A Little Bit of Heaven,” which is a little bit of hell.
Hudson plays Marley, a New Orleans adwoman whose emotionally carefree life of flighty dippiness and empty sex ends when she gets a diagnosis of colon cancer. She has no chance of survival, but her cute doctor (Gael Garcia Bernal) tells her there is an experimental cure — which, he adds, won’t result in Marley losing any of her lustrous golden curls. (It’s more likely Hudson’s agent said that before filming began.)
Newly deep-ified because she’s aware of her own mortality, Marley has visions of an afterlife in which God takes the form of Whoopi Goldberg. (“I love Whoopi!” squeals Marley. “Me too!” chortles the Deity, in the form of the “View” co-host.)
Marley then goes through the business of dying: Telling her parents (Kathy Bates, Treat Williams) to get along, deciding who among her pals — including Rosemarie DeWitt, Romany Malco and Lucy Punch — should get her dog, and, of course, falling in love with the cute doctor.
Ethics be damned. Bernal’s physician falls in love with the doomed Marley, who still can muster the strength to go on dates mainly because her disease manifests itself through the wearing of ever-bigger and fuzzier angora sweaters. There’s a credit card-straining trip to the mall, a few more visits with Goddess Whoopi, a moody moment at a bar to add to Hudson’s performance clip reel aaaand we’re out.
“A Little Bit of Heaven” would be offensive if it weren’t simply an outlet catalogue having Deep Thoughts. Hudson, whose star never really should have risen even after her Oscar-nominated turn in 2000’s “Almost Famous,” is just the latest starlet to tackle the theme that terrifies them all — What If I Weren’t Here?! — and should be damned no more than Winona Ryder was for “Autumn in New York” or Charlize Theron for “Sweet November.”
Bernal appears embarrassed to be on set, which helps balance Hudson’s happy-to-be-anywhere attitude. Hera state of mind is best manifested by Marley’s hippie dance to “When the Saints Go Marching In” as she watches — and narrates in voice-over — her own funeral from the beyond.
As for the film’s title: Director Nicole Kassell doesn’t really have to go further than those Whoopi Almighty visits in the clouds, but Peter Dinklage pops up as a gigolo knockin’ on Marley’s door. The two wind up talking about the afterlife, and Dinklage escapes with his dignity even after reclining on a couch and revealing his character’s nickname. Guess what it is.
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