THEN SHE FOUND ME – Hollywood Reporter
TORONTO – Playing like an adult woman’s rejoinder to the Peter Pan factor in recent rom-coms, “Then She Found Me” prefers the mature man to the overgrown boy, gets knocked up without freaking out, and never — well, maybe once — goes for the startling gag over the pointed observation. With subtle laughs but solid emotional thrust, it will play very well with older audiences.
In her debut as feature director, Helen Hunt also stars as a teacher whose husband has a change of heart after less than a year of marriage. The earth beneath her continues to shake as her adoptive mother dies and her purportedly real one — self-obsessed talk show host Bernice, played with pushy panache by Bette Midler — makes her presence known.
Not a good time for new love, which makes the immediate arrival of Frank such a perfect vehicle for Colin Firth’s patented choked-back-emotions act. Frank is the recently-divorced dad of April’s student, and the two make a valiant (but doomed, natch) attempt not to ask each other out. Their quick rapport contrasts with the tentative relationship, threatened by half-truths and showbiz flakiness, between April and Bernice.
Then April, who has been worrying about getting too old to have a child, learns her estranged husband got her pregnant on the night he left — just the spark needed to kick all the plot’s tricky relationships into high gear at once.
April’s poor obstetrician (a truly left-field celeb cameo) hardly knows how many supporters she’ll have with her each time she’s due for an ultrasound. Things are moving quickly, but Hunt aims for restrained believability rather than glossy bounce.
The script isn’t afraid to crack a joke, but it also doesn’t want to exploit April’s angst for cute laughs; accordingly, Hunt the director allows Hunt the actress to look realistically beat-down from time to time. The relatively sober mood means that when things turn ugly, the blow-ups don’t come off as manufactured plot points. (That’s particularly true with Firth’s character, a memorably damaged suitor.)
The picture is set apart not only by its tone but by the way it takes seriously some elements that might get reduced to window-dressing in a movie more carefully engineered to reach the broadest audience: details of the protagonist’s Jewish upbringing, for instance, but especially the attitude toward children, who here aren’t fashion accessories but an essential part of the way April and Frank think about where they stand with each other. That’s not the kind of consequence-factoring theme you find in the average date movie, but it helps give “Then She Found Me” a character that many viewers will respond to.
Then She Found Me
Allan Hunter in Toronto
11 Sep 2007 12:42
Dir: Helen Hunt US. 2007. 100mins
It’s all about family in Then She Found Me, a thoughtful directorial debut from actress Helen Hunt that explores the ties that bind and the search for meaningful relationships. The potential for heart-tugging excess is largely avoided in an approach that favours discretion over flashy histrionics. The material may still be too soapy for some tastes but older chic flick aficionados will appreciate a likable mixture of laughter, tears and home truths that is marked by a welcome sense of restraint.
The audience that identified with In Her Shoes or swooned over several helpings of Bridget Jones’s Diary should provide the core demographic for Then She Found Me and ensure a decent theatrical success domestically although international prospects will be softer.
In the decade since As Good As It Gets, Hunt has amassed a number of interesting credits without ever finding another role that matched the complexity and pathos of her Oscar-winning performance opposite Jack Nicholson. That may partially explain why she has written, produced and directed a film that that not only contains that elusive role but proves she has the ability to carve out a second career in the director’s chair.
Then She Found Me is an adaptation of Elinor Lipman’s 1990 heartwarmer that has been updated and altered to a point where it is almost unrecognisable beyond the bare bones of some plot elements. The adaptation loses some of the wry subtleties and bitter ironies of the novel but that is unlikely to be a major issue for mainstream filmgoers. Hunt stars as April Epner, a thirty-nine year-old teacher who is abandoned by her immature husband Ben (Broderick) hours before the death of her adopted mother.
She is desperate to have a child and find a mate in that order. Her prayers are answered all too easily by her sudden attraction to middle-aged divorcee and father of two Frank (Firth). The complications are only just beginning as she is then approached by television celebrity Bernice Graves (Midler) who claims to be the mother who gave her up for adoption all these years ago after a brief liaison with Steve McQueen.
Then She Found Me is a mid-life crisis played out in scenarios where too many options complicate rather than ease the burden of deciding what April really wants from life. Frank is just perfect but ex-husband Ben remains inexplicably irresistible. The irrepressible Bernice could be a girl’s best friend if April could only believe a word that the needy, self-dramatising woman utters.
Hunt avoids the temptation of a first time feature director to use the film as a calling card that displays her virtuosity with the camera and fondness for pyrotechnics. Instead, she takes a very measured, mature approach in which careful compositions and unobtrusive camerawork are used to serve the story with classical elegance. Her empathy with actors is one of the film’s strongest virtues.
Bette Midler resists the temptation to paint Bernice as a grand dame life force. Subdued and disciplined, she creates something real and believable rather than indulging the easier instinct of high camp, larger than life. Firth is cast to type as the diffident, self-deprecating English romantic but seems more comfortable here than in recent outings like When Did You Last See Your Father. There is also a bizarre cameo from a slightly bemused Salaman Rushdie as a genial gynaecologist.
Hunt is excellent in a role that plays to her well-honed strengths for bittersweet drama and it is not inconceivable that she might attract awards consideration for a finely nuanced performance that dominates every frame of the film. Ten years after As Good As It Gets and disappointments like Pay It Back and Curse Of The Jade Scorpion, Hunt has finally found a creative second wind.
Killer Films (US)
Blue Rider (US)
John Wells Productions (US)
Odyssey Entertainment (UK)
(44) 207 520-5614
based on the novel by Elinor Lipman
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