Then She Found Me
Director
Cast
, , ,
Rated
R
Runtime
100 min.
Release Date
05/02/2008
Then She Found Me

Helen Hunt directed, stars in, co-wrote, and produced Then She Found Me, an adaptation of Elinor Lipman’s novel of the same name. The film is Hunt’s passion project—something she spent the past several years putting together outside of Hollywood. However commendable her dedication and willingness to step out of the spotlight may be, I can’t help but wonder if her continued presence in cringe-worthy romantic comedies like What Women Want would’ve been a better career move? The end result of her apparent zeal for the material is nothing we can’t find on Lifetime any night of the week.

The story begins with the marriage of New Yorkers April (Hunt) and Ben (Matthew Broderick). She’s a devoted teacher and Jew; he’s a perpetual man-boy, unable to grow up or offer any kind of authentic love. After a year of marriage and month after month of unsuccessful attempts at pregnancy, April, at thirty-nine, is beginning to wonder if she’ll ever have children. And when Ben decides marriage isn’t his cup of tea—abandoning her after one last romp on the kitchen floor—April’s biological clock gets a warning sign.Though that’s enough trouble to sustain any drama or comedy (or whatever genre this film is going for), the trials continue when April’s adoptive mother dies. But then her biological mother Bernice (Bette Midler), a morning talk show host, makes contact out of the blue and tells April she’s the daughter of Steve McQueen. Except, how can April deal with her personal identity as a child when she’s falling in love with Frank (Colin Firth), the father of one of her students? Just as things are going well with him, she discovers she’s pregnant with Ben’s baby. These problems all become part of an emotional scale tipping from one problem to the next with no end to their complications. Indeed, if April can hardly manage them, how can we?

Though that’s enough trouble to sustain any drama or comedy (or whatever genre this film is going for), the trials continue when April’s adoptive mother dies. But then her biological mother Bernice (Bette Midler), a morning talk show host, makes contact out of the blue and tells April she’s the daughter of Steve McQueen. Except, how can April deal with her personal identity as a child when she’s falling in love with Frank (Colin Firth), the father of one of her students? Just as things are going well with him, she discovers she’s pregnant with Ben’s baby. These problems all become part of an emotional scale tipping from one problem to the next with no end to their complications. Indeed, if April can hardly manage them, how can we?

Relying on the performers to enhance the script, Hunt’s direction is banal, allowing for a few scenes for Firth to flair his nostrils and Broderick to give dumbfounded blank stares. Midler sticks out like a sore thumb in comparison to her co-stars, who each contain that glumness too many comedies nowadays are mistaking for depth. Midler is perpetually alive in her role, delivering boisterous lines with Broadway showmanship. Granted, her character is a celebrity, but hers in the only natural performance of the bunch.

And I hate to reduce myself to criticizing Hunt for her appearance, but one look at her makes you wonder if she’s been stranded on a mountain all winter with nothing to eat but belt and shoe leather. Throughout the picture, my eyes involuntarily moved to her neck, where every tendon and vein protrudes as if sculpted in high relief. While I commend Hunt for clearly avoiding plastic surgery like so many other actresses her age, whatever diet she’s turned to has gone on long enough. It’s pizza time, Ms. Hunt! Looking like a skeleton wearing a Helen Hunt Halloween costume, her playing thirty-nine just doesn’t work, as the skeleton just can’t fill out the skin of its suit, leaving an oddly wrinkled (and concerning) façade.

I’m not sure if Then She Found Me is supposed to be a romantic comedy or not—it’s advertised as one. I suppose, given the endless slew of tragic events therein, the generic “drama” label is more fitting (though I’d be hard-pressed to find an argument against someone calling this a tragedy). Hunt’s picture has heart to be sure, but that can’t make up for April’s seemingly endless balancing act, wherein everything that could go wrong does without fail. We’re lost somewhere in the teeter-tottering between tragedies and deceptions and disappointments. And though the final resolution may be enough for her character, it seems to come too easy given the preceding events.

The overall tone remains muted and gray and frankly dismal, leaving a sense of melancholy in the viewer, but not in that strange welcomed-depressing way. Occasionally, I enjoy a bummer film that wrenches my heart and soul, that challenges my expectations of the moviegoing experience. But the late Ingmar Bergman would’ve probably needed Prozac after screening this film. Furthermore, it felt drenched in sappiness that, when looking back, a person could probably forecast by imagining the worst possible outcome. Whatever lesson is supposed to be learned gets lost in April’s perilous slew of life misfortunes, no matter how likable her character, or how affable an actress Hunt has the potential to be.

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