Helen Hunt’s directorial debut may not be an earthshaking development in the world of cinema, but it does suggest that she is far from a lightweight in this area of creativity.
Based on an Elinor Lipman novel adapted by Hunt with two other screenwriters, “Then She Found Me” also features Hunt as April, a 39-year-old school teacher who, when we meet her, is a wilting flower about to lose her mother (Lynn Cohen) and marry Ben, a nebbish and loser, played by Matthew Broderick.
April is adopted, a kind of appendage in a religious Jewish family where she finds more love from her brother than she does from her captious mother. “You don’t know what it’s like to be adopted,” she tells Ben, who shoots back, “You don’t know what it’s like not to be adopted.”
Shortly after Ben goes back to his mommy and her mother dies, April receives a visit. It is from a woman claiming to be her birth mother.
New people in her life
She is Bernice, a daytime talk show host played by Bette Midler, who shines in an understated role. Bernice claims that April is the result of a one-night stand with Steve McQueen, which may or may not be the case, but it seems clear that Bernice is April’s real mother.
’Then She Found Me’
DIRECTED BY Helen Hunt
SCREENPLAY BY Helen Hunt, Alice Arlen and Victor Levin, based on novel by Elinor Lipman
STARRING: Helen Hunt, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth and Salman Rushie
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
It’s part of a life-changing experience accented by the appearance of another man, a father of one of her students. Played by the always dependable Colin Firth, Frank is the emotional anchor April needs through her ordeal and rebirth, one in which she searches for her identity as an independent woman, a daughter, and a mate in a mature relationship. Complicating the scenario is a pregnancy, the result of a careless encounter with Ben. When she visits her obstetrician, we experience a distant ring of familiarity. We’ve seen this actor before. He is, in fact, not a veteran actor but author Salman Rushdie.
“Then She Found Me” possesses all the trappings of a conventional melodrama, the kind of soppy affair qualifying it as a candidate for countless reruns on Lifetime. But if the drama veers close to that unenviable territory, Hunt never allows her movie to tip or topple into it. Allowing herself to appear less than glamorous, Hunt creates a credible character and certainly a Type-A creative woman who somehow finds that as she approaches 40, she does not have a life — that is, a life she can call her own.
This is a work that does not depend on dramatic crescendos; it is, instead, a film imbued with finely placed grace notes. The best moments are those with Hunt and Midler. The most poignant occurs when April asks Bernice a pointed question about her motives. Finding herself in a corner, Bernice tells the truth, one that places the tenuous relationship in peril.
“Then She Found Me” is not one of those rollicking dramatic comedies out to please crowds aching for tears or hearty laughs. But with its share of poignant insights and tender, revealing moments, it draws us into its emotional center with grace and effortless charm.
It is a solid effort that reveals Hunt to be an artist with integrity and intelligence.