“Helen, you do act like a killjoy sometimes.”
While …Helen? offers some enjoyment in its recreation of 1930s Hollywood — complete with eerie Shirley Temple- and Mae West-wannabes dancing their hearts out for hypothetical talent scouts in the audience — it ultimately fails to generate the same type of twisted energy as its cinematic predecessors, due primarily to the rather tame central relationship between Winters and Reynolds. Ironically, 40-year-old Debbie Reynolds’ uber-trim, youthful appearance (she looks not a day over 30) works to her detriment here, given that she never comes across as either middle-aged or pathetic — and her friendship with Winters, based purely on the circumstance of their sons’ hideous crime, lacks the emotional gravity of the contentious familial relationships grounding both Jane and Charlotte.
As a result, Winters’ gradual descent into madness exists in a weird parallel universe to the somewhat mundane path taken by Reynolds (who seems to want to be in a romantic musical — note her two impressive dance scenes). There’s some tension to be had in the underlying question of who’s been making threatening calls to the two ladies, and whether or not Reynolds’ convenient new love interest (nicely played by Dennis Weaver) will care about her grown son’s infamous record — but a potential subplot about Winters’ obsession with a charismatic female evangelist (Agnes Moorehead in a criminally small cameo) sadly fails to go anywhere, and the climactic ending, while shocking, feels like a bit of an emotional cheat.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: