When “A Little Bit of Heaven” starts unfurling, you can feel the film ticking off the cutesy romantic comedy conventions, one by one: Kate Hudson (check) stars as a free-spirited ad exec (check) who has a gorgeous courtyard apartment (check) in New Orleans, complete with sassy gay neighbor (check) and adorably mush-faced bulldog (check).
Throw in the kooky best friend (Lucy Punch), the grounded and pregnant other best friend (Rosemarie DeWitt), and Gael García Bernal as a befuddled oncologist who doesn't know how to tell jokes, and the film begins like any number of other winsomely nauseating Hudson vehicles. Ah, but “A Little Bit of Heaven” has a trick up its sleeve designed to make all this even worse: the lead character has colon cancer. (Or as Hudson's free-spirited ad exec Marley insists on calling it, “ass cancer.”)
Oh, and did I mention that Whoopi Goldberg turns up as God, who manifests Herself as Whoopi Goldberg so as to be comforting for Marley? (For the record, I'm an atheist, but if I get a celebrity deity in the afterlife, I want Blythe Danner or Paula Abdul.)
As you might well imagine, “Heaven” is no “Wit” when it comes to accurately portraying cancer. Following in the tradition of forebears like Ali MacGraw in “Love Story,” Charlize Theron in “Sweet November” and Mia Wasikowska in last year's wretched “Restless,” cancer gives Hudson an ethereal glow that renders her more attractive the closer she gets to kicking the bucket.
Marley gets to keep all her hair, and apart from one scene where she vomits while not wearing any makeup (but still looking like Kate Hudson), there are almost no ravages visited upon her. She falls for her oncologist and the two go to drag bars and blues clubs when they're not adorably traipsing through the streets of the Crescent City in one montage after another. Who's got time for bed-rest when there are hang-gliding lessons to be had? (Those are part of the three wishes given to Marley by God. Don't ask.)
Of course, the hours of free time that Dr. Bernal can devote to his patient/girlfriend seem to contradict his earlier statement that his medical duties have stood in the way of his having a social life, but “A Little Bit of Heaven” can't be bothered to find consistency of tone, much less of characterization. (Poor García Bernal probably thought “Letters to Juliet” would be the nadir of his career, but never say never.)
We're supposed to gain insight into our heroine's fear of commitment through the constant bickering of parents Kathy Bates and Treat Williams -- “They cast who as your mother?” one imagines Goldie Hawn asking Hudson -- but this movie is a phony lovefest from start to finish, with perhaps no scene being quite as artificial as the moment where the sassy gay neighbor (Romany Malco, who plays every scene in horrid pastels or black bikini underwear) sends a diminutive hustler (a wisely uncredited Peter Dinklage) over to Marley's apartment.
The film's title, incidentally, winds up being the nickname for Dinklage's character. We never see him ply his trade and earn the sobriquet, of course, but one assumes it's more applicable to his abilities than it is to this awful, ponderous movie.