A new theme is emerging in chick flicks. You could hear it, softly, at the end of ”Mona Lisa Smile,” and it gets a few decibels louder in Garry Marshall’s Raising Helen, a winsomely formulaic domestic comedy that says that women can have it all – but they really shouldn’t try to. Helen (Kate Hudson), an assistant at a New York modeling agency, loves the midnight party life. Then fate intervenes. One of her sisters is killed, and in the will the sister specifies that her three kids – 15-year-old Audrey (Hayden Panettiere), 10-year-old Henry (Spencer Breslin), and 5-year-old Sarah (Abigail Breslin) – should all be entrusted to Helen’s care.
Holy responsibility! You’d think that ”Raising Helen,” in the let’s-pretend-I’m-not-a-glorified-sitcom-pilot tradition of ”Three Men and a Baby” and ”Jersey Girl,” would depict Helen’s new life with a twinge of hardship. But the conflicts she faces all melt away like butter. After bidding goodbye to her chichi career, she moves her new family to a four-bedroom flat in Queens, lands a job as a secretary at a used-car lot, and commences a flirtation with a local pastor (John Corbett). Hudson’s sunny, ringlet-tossing appeal fits snugly into the film’s happy-homemaker ideology: She makes caring for three kids she barely knows look downright glamorous. ”Raising Helen” does offer a lame, eleventh-hour gesture at nudging Helen toward a token version of her old career, but for women in the audience who are thinking of starting families, the film’s real message is clear: Don’t try this at work.