Most movies about dying from cancer don’t have the bouncy high spirits and candy-colored atmosphere of a modern romantic comedy, and, if nothing else, A Little Bit Of Heaven serves as a useful object lesson as to why. Directed by Nicole Kassell (The Woodsman) from a script by first-timer Gren Wells, the film stars Kate Hudson as a young New Orleans ad executive who’s good at her job, fun at a party, free with her body, and vocal about her intention to never fall in love and settle down. If dramatic convention didn’t mark her as a character destined to eat her words by falling head over heels in short order, the fact that she lives in an apartment with a colorful horse painted on the wall and a functional, frilly swing in the dining room would peg her as a closet romantic. And, in short order, she does meet Gael Garcia Bernal, a handsome man who changes how she feels about love. He just happens to be a doctor diagnosing her with colon cancer and offering slim chances that any treatment will keep her alive.
At this point, it would make sense for the film to change tones dramatically, or at least turn the froth down to a simmer. Bravely or stupidly, both A Little Bit Of Heaven and its heroine charge on as if the introduction of terminal cancer didn’t change things that much. Hudson flirts with Bernal as he preps her for a colonoscopy, an awkward moment followed by a fantasy sequence in which Hudson’s spirit travels to heaven and talks to God, who takes the form of Whoopi Goldberg, who informs her, sassily, that she’s dying. The Almighty grants her three wishes on the way out, however, though She knows—being omniscient and all—that what Hudson really wants is to find love before she dies.
It’s the not-so-hidden agenda of romantic comedies to reinforce the importance of True Love and, despite its grim subject matter, A Little Bit Of Heaven stays on task even in the face of death. It’s a bold choice, but it doesn’t work, creating cognitive dissonance between the film’s cutesy tone and the inevitably dark turn of its final act. The genre confusion might have worked, however, if Kassell or her star showed any interest of getting beneath the surface of the film’s protagonist. But even when Hudson bottoms out in a self-destructive depressive spiral, it’s played for maximum quirk via a scene that sends her bicycling through the streets wearing pajamas and chugging whiskey. (That the only suggestion Hudson is getting sicker comes from the way her hair loses some of its body and luster doesn’t help.) Peter Dinklage shows up for one scene as a mustachioed, colorfully attired, extremely confident male prostitute hired for Hudson as a joke but eager to inform her that if she wants to try his wares his nickname is, well, take a look at the movie’s title again. Instead of sending a perfectly innocent, thinly conceived romantic comedy heroine to a Goldberg-ruled afterlife, why not make a movie about that guy?