Laura Pehlke (Jenna Fischer) lives in suburban Long Island in 2002 with her handsome husband Bob (Chris O'Donnell), a real estate agent, and their 12-year-old son Dennis (Daniel Yelsky). She works as a dental hygienist and has been sent reeling by a series of troubling developments in her chaotic life.
Despite his denials, Laura is convinced that Bob is having an affair with a woman at his office. In addition, Dennis is infatuated with Bob and highly critical of Laura. He can't stand his mother's weaknesses, such as drinking and smoking too much. Laura's ongoing tension is greatly aggravated by a neighbor's constantly barking dog. The animal mirrors her need for attention and affection. And then there is the brow-beating Laura is subjected to every time she sees her dominating mother Joan (Lesley Ann Warren) and her controlling sister Kathy (Brooke Smith). She is close to her father but as a former sports reporter he lives in the past and stays far away from family squabbles.
When Bob dies suddenly of a heart attack, caused by a heart beat abnormality that is not picked up by an ER physician, Laura plunges even further into darkness. As her mother and sister remind her, she has to grow up and take responsibility for her jumbled life and adolescent way of acting. Joan offers to send Dennis to a private school, and Kathy has already contacted a sleazy lawyer (Kim Coates) to file a malpractice lawsuit against the doctor who misdiagnosed Bob. Too weak to argue with either of them, Laura accepts both offers even though she is not comfortable with either one of them.
Laura knows the real reason behind her husband's death, and it's not malpractice. She also is shocked to learn that Dennis is lying to make friends at his new school. He has told everybody that his father was a heroic fireman who died on 9/11. Trying to win his favor, Laura allows herself to become a celebrity at the school, speaking about being a 9/11 widow.
Michael J. Weithorn directs this dramedy with just the right mix of genuine heartbreak and clever wit. He has drawn out an emotionally convincing performance from Jenna Fischer as a 35-year-old woman who is fiercely tested by situations beyond her control. She glided through her youth as a pretty and popular girl who was oblivious to the presence and concerns of others. She learns this truth about her past from Paul (Rob Benedict), her sister's harassed but sensitive husband, who is the only one who reaches out to Laura with the encouragement she needs. He confesses to having been secretly in love with her since high school. Now 20 years later, Paul still has the same feelings. This knowledge pumps up her shattered self-esteem and gives her a fresh incentive to be more awake to the emotions of those around her.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has stated that the entire message of Buddhism can be summed up in two succinct statements: "Help others" and "If you cannot help them, at least do not harm them." Other religions say the same thing, emphasizing the ties that bind us all together in a circle of compassion and obligation. In the finale of A Little Help, we see the humble beginnings of Laura's spiritual maturation resulting from her need to accept responsibility for her own life. Equally important is her insight into the help she has received from Dennis and Paul. Now she is convinced that love is an active behavior and not a passive activity.