Thursday, May 8, 2008

Then She Found Me

My review of Then She Found Me appears in this week's Fast Forward Weekly

Then She Found Me? Kind of wish she hadn’t

Helen Hunt’s directorial debut enters movie-of-the-week territory

Then She Found Me
, Helen Hunt’s feature directorial debut, attempts to tackle such grandiose themes as love and loss, along with the three big Fs — fidelity, family and fertility. The result is something like an overgrown garden, with Hunt mistakenly planting the tangled roots in the estrogen-drenched movie-of-the-week genre.

Hunt stars as April, a kindergarten teacher in her late 30s. Within the first five minutes of the film, April’s entire world crumbles. In rapid-fire succession, her childish husband (Matthew Broderick) leaves her, her adoptive mother dies and her biological mother (Bette Midler) arrives on the scene. Twenty minutes later, she’s embarking on a meet-cute romance with the single father of one of her students (Colin Firth) and then finds out she’s pregnant with her ex-husband’s child. An entire year’s worth of soap opera-styled calamities and plot twists play out in the remaining 80 minutes.

There’s no lack of sincerity on the actors’ parts. Hunt’s April, at her lowest points, is realistically flawed and has the visage to complement her inner struggles — painfully thin, long frown lines, and not a trace of makeup. The actress’s choice to ditch vanity throughout most of the film is brave in today’s Hollywood. Midler is charmingly sweet and brash, and appears to relish the opportunity to dig into the emotional confrontations. She and Hunt have a nice chemistry and are believable as a reunited mother and daughter. Broderick fares less well in the thankless role of the man-child who doesn’t know how to grow up, particularly when compared to Firth’s romantic, sardonic and occasionally angry hero. Firth truly shines as a man trying his best to let his guard down and fall in love. He also lays claim to the best lines.

Still, even the stellar cast can’t get past the convoluted story. Based on a book by Elinor Lipman, the script apparently deviates heavily from the original text. This would be fine if a defter hand had cut the fat and made a leaner, more resonant film. While Hunt shows promise as a director, she seems unable to recognize her film’s flaws — it keeps insisting that it’s about real people and real situations, and yet it moves further into ridiculousness with each new revelation. April’s troubles and triumphs come fast and furious, but have no time to hit home.

Hunt spent 10 years getting Then She Found Me off the ground. Eleven might have been the magic number.

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