Thirty-nine year-old schoolteacher April Epner is desperate to have her own child, despite her adoptive mother Trudy's (Lynn Cohen, "Munich's" Golda Meir) urgings to go the adoption route. Then April's hit with a double whammy when new husband Ben (Matthew Broderick, 2004's "The Stepford Wives") backs out of the relationship and her mother dies the next day. As if this were not enough stress, April's birth mother, New York City talk show host Bernice Graves (Bette Midler, 2004's "The Stepford Wives"), enters the picture just as a tentative romance begins with a student's father in star Helen Hunt's ("A Good Woman") feature directorial debut, "Then She Found Me."
Adapted from Elinor Lipman's novel by Alice Arlen ("The Weight of Water"), Victor Levin ("Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!") and Hunt, "Then She Found Me" is a messy slice of life film that explores motherhood, adoption and fidelity with winning performances by typecast actors. But for all the nice acting on display, one cannot shake off an inner voice screaming 'Vanity project!' The forty-four year-old-and-looks-it Hunt has cast herself as a thirty-nine year old described as gorgeous by both her mother and her new love interest (Hunt has awarded herself Colin Firth!) and mistaken for a woman in her early thirties by the latter. Still, despite Hunt the director occasionally putting Hunt the actress on a pedestal, the actress/director often looks haggard and always feel real. Hunt actually has more to work with here than she did in her Oscar winning "As Good As It Gets" role.
The film opens with April's marriage to Ben as April voice overs an old Jewish tale of a father who gains his young son's trust by catching him only to let the boy fall from the highest step. 'That'll teach you' the father tells the son, a life lesson in getting knocked down when you least expect it, something April's about to experience in spades. After rejecting her mother's advice to get a Chinese baby ('There's no difference!' she tells her adopted daughter), she tries in earnest with Ben, but one night he insists she sit down as he has something to tell her. Goodbye sex ensues on the kitchen floor and the next day he's gone and so is her mother.
Returning to school, April meets Frank (Colin Firth, "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"), a harried Englishman and father of two whose wife has left him and it immediately seems logical that these two may be made for each other (Frank's insecurity and neediness, especially when being played by great romantic lead Firth, also has that specter of vanity peeping through), but of course, that make-up sex with her ex is the session that finally results in conception. Bernice hovers on the sidelines anxious to provide a mom's support, but April's suspicious nature proves sound when her stories, that dad was Steve McQueen, for example, are disproved.
As a director, Hunt keeps multiple emotional strands aloft and her cast on their toes. Everyone, including Ben Shenkman ("Must Love Dogs," "Just Like Heaven") as April's non-adopted younger brother, fleshes out his or her character leaving us with someone we know much better by film's end and Hunt herself is terrific as the spoke in her spinning circle. Hunt and Midler, two actresses one might not ever come up with as mother and daughter, really make it work. Firth may seem too much a dream come true but even his Frank will only go so far before putting up a wall with great sound and fury. Broderick is getting a bit long in the tooth for playing Peter Pan types, but there's no denying he knows how to put a signature spin on the stereotype. Hunt's direction of children is aces, underlining their importance without undue fuss or precocity. Casting of author Salman Rushdie as Dr. Masani, April's obstetrician, is a little weird although he's not bad.
Visually, there's nothing special about "Then She Found Me," although production designer Stephen Beatrice ("Roger Dodger") has found New York locations which suit the film's characters, including an interesting working class seaside home for Frank in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn. Costume design (Donna Zakowska, "Kate & Leopold") juxtaposes April's dowdy teaching duds and sensible sandals with showbiz mom Bernice's flashier attire.
"Then She Found Me" is a smart and capable debut for Hunt as a director who has found herself a plum role. It's a perfect Mother's Day pick.
Robin did not see this film.
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