Then She Found Me

Movie Information

The Story: A 39-year-old woman on the verge of a new romance finds that she's pregnant by the husband who deserted her -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The Lowdown: A witty, insightful and very clever comedy-drama that suffers a bit due to an unreasonably glammed-down star and some typical indie-formula drawbacks. Still, an altogether good film.
Score:

Genre: Comedy-Drama
Director: Helen Hunt
Starring: Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Salman Rushdie
Rated: R

Helen Hunt’s directorial debut, Then She Found Me, is certainly impressive. It’s very well written, nicely paced and beautifully acted. Hunt displays a pleasantly unfussy style that suits the material, though a little more flash wouldn’t have hurt. There’s certainly never any sense that she’s showing off her filmmaking technique. On the debit side is the predictable low-key indie soundtrack, complete with rather drab soft-rock songs by Simon and Garfunkel knockoffs. I say predictable, because such soundtracks seem to go hand in hand with independent films in the 21st century. There is, however, a problem with the film—in which Hunt also stars—that’s more distracting than any other: Hunt’s appearance.

There’s nothing wrong with Hunt’s acting. She trades barbs with the best of them. She even held her own with Woody Allen in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001). But to put it bluntly, the woman looks like hell in this picture. In fact, she looks older than Bette Midler, who’s playing her mother. I don’t like making this kind of personal observation, but it’s impossible not to realize that Hunt has no one to blame for her appearance in the film but herself. She’s thrust the camera in so cruelly close and so deliberately glammed down her look—no makeup and limp, shapeless hair—that it has to have been a conscious decision. I can’t decide whether she’s very brave or simply insane. In either case, she has done her film no favors.

That to one side, Then She Found Me is a darn good time at the movies. The screenplay—based on a novel by Elinor Lipman—is a little treasure trove of intelligent and witty lines, and a major treasure trove of constantly delightful and occasionally insightful plot developments. The story evolves on the basis of “it’s just one damned thing after another,” and it works well.

Without giving away any more than the trailer already reveals, Hunt plays April Epner, a 39-year-old woman with a burning desire to be a mother. The film begins with April married to a brand new husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick). The problem—apart from their seeming inability to conceive—is that 10 months into the marriage Ben decides he doesn’t want “this life,” and promptly leaves April. The very next day April meets Frank (Colin Firth), a well meaning but troubled father of two children who attend the school where she teaches. This meeting is quickly followed by the death of April’s mother (Lynn Cohen, Across the Universe). Complicating matters further, April’s birth mother, Bernice Graves (Bette Midler), shows up and, it turns out, April is pregnant by Ben. There’s more, but I’ll leave it to the film itself to fill that in.

In terms of plot, the film’s opening is an embarrassment of riches. The slight downside to that is that it makes Then She Found Me a bit front-loaded. There are still developments, twists and surprises to come—mostly in terms of characterizations—but the film has a hard time living up to such a fast-paced, convoluted opening. It manages, but only just.

The characters and the performances are what really make the film. The casting is brilliant. Putting reservations about Hunt’s glammed-down look aside, she is just right for April. The always-reliable Colin Firth gets to play a character of considerably more complexity than usual. Normally, Firth lands roles, like the one in the Bridget Jones films, where he’s mostly called upon to be solid and stoically charming. This is different. The repressed charm is still there, but the solidity is on very shaky ground, and Firth makes the most of it.

Matthew Broderick trades on his middle-aged boyishness to terrific effect. When wearing a ball cap, Broderick looks like nothing so much as an overaged Beaver Cleaver, which is exactly the right note for his man-boy of a character, whose idea of seeing the world and exploring his options consists of moving back in with his mother. It’s a tricky part and not an especially pleasant one. What makes the role particularly thorny is that this is far removed from the cozy country of Judd Apatow’s man-boys in films like Knocked Up (2007), where all that’s needed is a little push to get the character into manhood.

And then there’s Bette Midler, whose presence lights up any film, and certainly does so here. The still divine Miss M. has a field day as the minor celebrity talk-show host who is April’s biological mother. She manages to be outrageous—even preposterous—and yet she’s never less than human. Even her more fantasticated lies are believably human.

The ending might be a little pat, but in spite of this and the other relatively minor problems, all in all, Hunt’s film succeeds. It is one of the best, most intelligent movies out there right now. Rated R for language and some sexual content.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

6 thoughts on “Then She Found Me

  1. Sean Williams

    Mr. Hanke, I have to question the extent to which Hunt’s appearance affects the quality of this film. I realize you intended no personal offense, but I know plenty of women who shun makeup (and plenty of attractive women, for that matter).

    However, I agree with you that the plot is very engagingly complex. Some reviewers have criticized it as contrived, but real life is far more bizarre. I’m adopted myself, and the chains of coincidence which connect me to my birth-parents are absolutely unnerving.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Mr. Hanke, I have to question the extent to which Hunt’s appearance affects the quality of this film. I realize you intended no personal offense, but I know plenty of women who shun makeup (and plenty of attractive women, for that matter).

    Sean, I wrestled with this topic a good while before choosing to put it in the review, because I knew it could be taken as a personal insult and not criticism. In the end, I went with it because it was something that was remarked on by every member of the audience I screened the film with. Granted, that was only maybe 8 people, but still it was the first thing everyone commented on. It was a woman who, in fact, who made the biggest fuss over it. A large part of the reason I dealt with it at all was in an attempt to defuse such a fuss.

    Bear in mind, I didn’t say that her appearance had a negative impact on the quality of the film, I said it was distracting. And when people are coming out of the film wondering if Hunt is sick, I’d say it was distracting. I certainly know a lot of women who use no makeup. I’ve nothing against that. I don’t even especially like makeup, but then there’s a difference between real life and blowing your face up 15 feet high on a movie screen. And it’s not just the lack of makeup, but the overall appearance in terms of her hair and the way she lights herself, etc.

    I’ve read a lot of the negative criticisms of the film and I don’t get the attacks on its contrived nature. I never found it unbelievable, and, if anything, I found the way in which the characters handled everything often painfully realistic.

  3. Quality Film Lover

    Mr. Hanke, I have to disagree with your review. My expectations were raised by Helen Hunt, so I got sucked into this one. Alas, it’s just another chic flick. 2 stars – maybe 2 ½. Chic flicks are usually about finding Mr. Right and having a baby – in any order, or reconciling/reuniting with an estranged parent or child. Plot additions and variations are window dressing. This film has both major themes. In my opinion, there’s not much here for the guys – but gals, if you relate to this stuff or you think Colin Firth is hot, you’ll probably like it. Otherwise, save your money, stay home and watch Lifetime or Hallmark. Helen Hunt does look old. Bette Midler plays it pretty straight and is not obnoxious at all in this one.

  4. Ken Hanke

    In my opinion, there’s not much here for the guys

    Well, that’s your opinion and you’re certainly entitled to it, but it’s interesting to note that the two people discussing the film in positive terms were guys. Also, I saw the film in the company of two guys — neither of whom pegged it as a “chick flick.” This is by no means conclusive — perhaps we’re all testosterone challenged — but there are at least four guys who found merit in the film.

    I’d also have to say that I don’t agree that plot additions and variations are exactly window dressing when you’re dealing with a film that’s about the characters.

    But then I don’t know exactly what standards you’re applying. Are there films of this type — or at least of a similar nature — that you don’t find to be “chick flicks?”

  5. Quality Film Lover

    Well, it’s true I am not a fan of romances at all, so I see few of them. A great many people love feel good fare with happy endings, and that’s fine. They just aren’t for me. I want a higher level of drama that isn’t quickly forgettable, and I expected more from Helen Hunt. On romances in general, I don’t think When Sally Met Harry was a chick flick, for example. Neither was Sideways.

    “finding Mr. Right and having a baby”
    Set it in wartime, national disaster, or political scandal and I’ll get interested. Or tell it from an unhappy male point of view as in A Place in the Sun or Fatal Attraction.

    “reconciling/reuniting with an estranged parent or child”
    How about “Delores Clayborn”? It’s character driven, well structured, and embraces multiple women’s issues realistically. It’s not a chick flick and certainly not forgettable.

    I hope this clarifies my criteria for you. The movies I mentioned above live on and on. I really don’t think Then She Found Me will. That’s why I disagree with 4 stars.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Thank you. It all comes down to a matter of taste. Personally, I can’t stand When Harry Met Sally, for example, have always felt A Place in the Sun wildly overrated (I’ll take Sternberg’s 1931 An American Tragedy any day), and still find Fatal Attraction to be a Friday the 13th picture for people who wouldn’t be caught dead at a Friday the 13th picture (Hollywood turns out a glossy, upscale variant every so often).

    I certainly agree on Dolores Claiborne.

    But really with the exception of Harry Met Sally, none of these strike me as comparable to Then She Found Me. They may all explore some element of romance — even if in a very twisted sense in some cases — but I’m not sure they’re comedic. (Sideways, I guess.)

    I do, however, agree that it’s unlikely Then She Found Me will live on and on, which is why I gave it four and not five stars. I think it’s a good movie, but not a great one. Still, predicting what will or won’t live on is a tricky business under the best of circumstances.

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