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  • 15
  • Comedy, Drama
  • 2007
  • 100 mins

Then She Found Me

Then She Found Me

Synopsis

Helen Hunt stars, directs, co-writes and co-produces this romantic drama for adults, in which middle-aged April gives as good as she gets when it comes to betrayal. With Colin Firth and Bette Midler

About

"How can you know if someone's your mother? I mean, if someone says they're your mother, how can you be sure?". So asks April Epner (Hunt), protagonist if never quite heroine of Then She Found Me. The answer that she initially receives - "DNA" - proves a red herring, but nonetheless it is the question itself that ties together the film's different narrative strands.

On the one hand, April is a 39-year-old woman desperate for a child of her own, and painfully aware that the biological clock is ticking. Shortly after her rather immature husband Ben (Broderick) leaves her, April meets recently divorced father-of-two Frank Harte (Firth) and romance blossoms. But then an unexpected if not entirely unwanted pregnancy complicates matters.

On the other hand, April is a woman with unanswered questions about her own adoption as a child and when her adoptive mother Trudy (Cohen) dies and a loud, insistent woman claiming to be her biological mother (Midler) appears on the scene, April finds herself even more confused about who she is, what women want, and whether all this can possibly be as good as it gets.

If Then She Found Me sound plain awful on paper, then it is to Hunt's great credit, not just as an actor, but also as debuting director, writer and producer, that on screen it ends up being a smart, utterly believable and compellingly complex portrait of a middle-aged woman in crisis. Hunt has taken Elinor Lipman's 1990 novel about a teacher's chalk-and-cheese relationship with her new-found biological mother, has invented from scratch April's own maternal longings and her romance with Frank, and from all these ingredients has crafted something far more than the sum of its parts.

Much of the film's success comes from its razor-sharp dialogue and its restrained performances - even the larger-than-life Midler plays the larger-than-life Bernice with relative understatement. But there is also the elliptical manner in which the narrative unfolds, with key events (the death of April's mother, for example) taking place entirely off screen. Hunt shows assurance and economy as a director, trusting viewers to keep up rather than inserting lots of artless expositional material. She is also fearless in directing herself, focusing on every blemish of her own make-up free face, in a (successful) bid to ground her character in reality.

It might at first seem strange that a film about mothers and daughters should open (and also close) with April telling a Jewish joke in voiceover about a father teaching his son a particularly harsh lesson of life. Yet one of the film's greatest surprises is its theological content, as the Jewish April, in reassessing her relationship with her mother(s), must also reconcile her deep-seated sense of abandonment to the notion of a loving father. It is in this context that the otherwise odd casting of apostate author Salman Rushdie as April's obstetrician begins to make a sort of sense, for whose presence could better underscore the wavering faith of the protagonist?

The ending, when it comes, mixes the sweet with the bitter, as April's problems are both resolved, and (by implication) passed on wholesale to the next generation, doomed one day to have to face them all over again as she herself has done. It is, after all, a lesson in life that we all have to learn.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Helen Hunt, Tommy Nelson, Bette Midler, Lynn Cohen, Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth, John Benjamin Hickey, Ben Skankman, Daisy Tahan, Salman Rushdie
  • Director: Helen Hunt
  • Screen Writer: Alice Arlen, Victor Levin, Helen Hunt
  • Writer (Book): Elinor Lipman
  • Producer: Pamela Koffler, Helen Hunt, Katie Roumel, Connie Tavel, Christine Vachon
  • Photographer: Peter Donahue
  • Composer: David Mansfield

In a nutshell

What at first seems a morose if witty romantic comedy for adults ends up being an altogether more serious piece about a woman acquiring children but leaving behind childish things.

by Anton Bitel

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