Release Date: April 25
Director: Helen Hunt
Writers: Hunt, Vic Levin and Alice Arlen (adapted screenplay), Elinor Lipman (novel)
Cinematographer: Peter Donahue
Starring: Hunt, Bette Midler, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick, Ben Shenkman
Studio/Run Time: Blue Rider Pictures, 100 mins.
Helen Hunt directs refreshingly honest film about motherhood and family
Then She Found Me—Helen Hunt’s directorial debut—focuses on the early middle-aged travails of April Epner (Hunt), a 39-year-old Jewish schoolteacher living in south Brooklyn.
Hunt’s instincts in the director’s chair are surprisingly sharp: Then She Found Me
is rare in its eloquence and simplicity, a mostly unspectacular story about a group of grown-ups riddled with realistic (if unglamorous) flaws, trying their best to sort out their lives.
Hunt’s April, who was adopted as a child, recently separated from her buffoonish husband (an extra-paunchy Matthew Broderick) but remains excruciatingly aware that her childbearing years are receding. She becomes preoccupied with having a kid via natural methods, despite some convincing pro-adoption arguments from her adoptive mother (Lynn Cohen) and physician brother (Ben Shenkman). The morning after her husband’s unceremonious walkout, April encounters Frank (Colin Firth), the single father of one of her students, who wisely encourages her to “do nothing until you’ve slept”; soon after, April’s adoptive mother dies, and she’s contacted by her birth mother, Bernice (Bette Midler), a local talk-show host with a penchant for high heels, power suits and fibs. April confides in Frank; Bernice mugs and apologizes and rearranges her story. Relationships falter and bloom, love is doubted and confirmed, and Then She Found Me attempts, nobly, to redefine what it means to be a family.
April’s desire for a child is neither sensationalized nor undermined, and—unlike the recent slew of Hollywood movies tackling the notion of new motherhood—it’s never played for jokes. Then She Found Me takes itself seriously, which is increasingly unusual for a romantic-dramedy, and (save for a ridiculous cameo by Salman Rushdie, who plays Hunt’s OB-GYN) the movie never feels glossed-up or contrived. Rather, it’s a frank and compelling examination of the strength of familial bonds—regardless of whether they’re born of blood or circumstance.
In the decade-plus since Mad About You first blared into American living rooms, Hunt has aged naturally and appropriately; her avoidance of cosmetic retouching is admirable, but would be otherwise unremarkable if it weren’t for Bette Midler’s peculiarly unlined face, which makes it hard for viewers to buy the supposed 15-year age difference between the two. Hunt’s unusually gaunt frame doesn’t help, although it does reaffirm April’s overall disillusionment (she is often the victim of other peoples’ mistakes, and her body shows her weariness with each protruding bone and hallowed cheek. Firth also excels as Frank, a struggling dad with a tendency to succumb to bouts of rage, which, remarkably, often feel perfectly justified (a testament to Firth’s skill).
Then She Found Me is unflashy and quiet, but not without its moments of levity, and any moviegoer previously alienated by forced guffaws or over-stylized dialogue will be charmed by the film’s earnestness: Elaborate backdrops and perfectly lit sunsets still have nothing on heart.