© 2008 Ray Wong
Helen Hunt the actress has been out of the spotlight for a few years. What emerges lately is Helen Hung the writer-director, with her directorial debut, Then She Found Me based on Elinor Lipman's novel that explores the intricate relationships in one woman's life.
April Epner (Helen Hunt) is a Jewish woman who decides to marry her best friend Ben (Matthew Broderick) even though he often acts like a child. As an adopted child, April wants her own children, but after ten months of trying, she is becoming desperate -- she is, after all, pushing 40. Unable to handle the pressure, Ben leaves her.
When her mother (Lynn Cohen) passes away, April's life nearly falls apart. That's when she meets divorced father Frank (Colin Firth). They feel their attraction toward each other immediately, but they both know they carry too much baggage of their own to get into a relationship. They proceed cautiously anyway.
Then April's birth mother, Bernice (Bette Midler) starts to make contact with her. April wants to have nothing to do with the woman who gave her away, but her curiosity and desire to know her past get the best of her. To complicate matters, April finds out she's finally pregnant, with Ben's child. Obviously she wants to keep the baby, but she also wants to be with Frank, who is already struggling as a single dad of two. Can a man love a woman who is carrying another man's child?
After her high-profile career in the late 90s (Twisters, Castaway, As Good As It Gets for which she won a Best Actress Oscar), Helen Hunt practically disappeared. Except for a few smaller roles, she had been busy working on a pet project: adapting Elinor Lipman's estrogenic novel to the big screen. As the main character, Hunt appropriately looks gaunt and tired, as if life has taken a toll on her all these missing years. Her performance is understated, nuanced and sublime. Her character is flawed, but she makes us empathize with her hopes, dreams, wishes, and pitfalls. She makes us want to see her character happy, and that's half the battle won for this personal drama.
Colin Firth (Nanny McPhee) is also sincere and understated as the equally flawed Frank. He portrays the character with enough kindness, insecurity and pathos that we understand the pain behind his laid back demeanor. It really helps that Firth and Hunt feel good as a couple. The relationship between the characters are well played. In contrast, Bette Midler (The Stepford Wives) has the showiest role and sometimes she overplays the comedy. Her larger-than-life character also is somewhat a distraction in the otherwise "small" personal dramedy. Matthew Broderick's (The Producers) role is too small to make an impact. His relationship with Hunt isn't really convincing. I don't buy their sexual attention to each other, nor do I believe that they are ever best friends as they claim to be.
Written by Hunt, Alice Arlen (Silkwood) and Victor Levin (Win a Date with Tad Hamilton), the script is at its best when exploring the intricate relationships between these characters. There's something genuine about these characters and their interactions with each other. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and even insightful sometimes. It balances the drama and comedy very well. On the other hand, the plot does seem rather contrived, and at times unconvincing. The accidental pregnancy is a trite literary convention, for example. Bernice's character also seems too "out there" to mesh with the rest of the film, which tends to be more quiet and personal. The conflict between Frank and April feels forced.
Hunt, however, proves herself to be quite a good director. She has a good eye for composition and a good ear for sharp, well-paced dialogue. She also has a knack for exploring the subtlety of human relationships and behaviors to make these characters believable. A good actress herself, she really does understand the art of acting, and that shows in her costar's subtle, understated performances. She may have emerged as one of the new breed of "actors' director."
Then She Found Me is a small, intimate, humorous film that looks at the imperfect ways we live our lives. It explores themes such as love, choices, self-respect, and the unpredictability of life. The result is a satisfying little film that, despite its flaws, makes me glad that it's found me.
Stars: Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Lynn Cohen, Ben Shenkman
Director: Helen Hunt
Writer: Alice Arlen, Victor Levin, Helen Hunt (based on Elinor Lipman's novel)
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual content
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 7.4 out of 10