Yesterday afternoon I walked over to Cinemania, a Berlin DVD store, and rented Nicole Kassell‘s A Little Bit of Heaven, the Kate Hudson ass-cancer love story that opened last Friday and got creamed by critics. I was expecting something grotesque, but was surprised to discover it isn’t all that painful.

It’s a fundamentally dishonest and treacly movie about making the most out of the fact that you’re about to die. The life-embracing “up” attitude that it’s selling is synthetic and calculated, and about as phony as a three-dollar bill. But once you get past that (or digest that), it’s watchable.

Hudson performs reasonably well as Marley, a New Orleans advertising exec who experiences emotional and spiritual growth when she learns that she’s got advanced colon cancer and has only a few weeks to love. Gael Garcia Bernal‘s oncologist character, who becomes Marley’s lover starting in Act Two, looks trapped but not entirely miserable. He mans up and does the job. Kathy Bates and Treat Williams play her anxious and conflicted parents with at least a semblance of dignity. And Whoopi Goldberg plays a mind’s-eye version of God…don’t ask.

Hudson‘s success is based on her roles and acting style reflecting the lives and attitudes of shallow, not terribly perceptive girls everywhere (the ones who used to read Cosmopolitan in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s), and this is a shallow, not terribly perceptive film that tries to turn a story about a young woman’s premature death into a transformative turn-on — a movie that, as Hudson’s Marley character puts it, tries to “put the FUN back in funeral.”

As I watched it hit me that Hudson, now 33, has moved past that pristine youth-glow look and is now squarely in her 30s. Her face is a bit heavier. She’s no longer Penny Lane, looking a wee bit older than her years.