|Then She Found Me
|Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler
When actors move behind the camera they take a massive gamble. The results can either reignite public interest, as with Mel Gibson’s Braveheart or more recently Apocalypto, or derail their career and undermine their reputation, as demonstrated by, well, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Helen Hunt’s directorial debut Then She Found Me doesn’t quite hit the heights of the best work of her What Women Want co-star, but neither is it as self-indulgent as his worst. It is an odd film, flawed but ultimately endearing.
Hunt casts herself in the lead role as April Epner, a schoolteacher adopted as an infant by a Jewish family. After many unsuccessful attempts to become pregnant, her husband, played by Matthew Broderick, abandons her. While recovering, she meets Colin Firth, a damaged divorcee parent, and Bette Midler, a chat show host and, as it transpires, her long lost birth mother. The film also features cameos from Edie Falco, Tim Robbins and, perhaps strangest of all, Salman Rushdie as an obstetrician/gynaecologist.
It would be fair to say that I am not exactly the target audience of this film, but I like to think that a good story should have universal appeal. Unfortunately for Hunt, the early set-up in her directorial debut distances the viewer from the characters, providing little for the actors to work with. This is the fatal flaw of Then She Found Me, as the film barely recovers from a clunky and, at times, clichéd script. That it does recover is a credit to the individual performances as well as Hunt’s direction. It is an encouraging debut and she makes excellent use of New York as a back-drop to evoke a melancholy tone. Her naturalistic style does suffer from the odd lighting error and overused musical cue, but these are forgivable in a film that, for the most part, is assured and intelligent.
Hunt also shines in the lead role, using her unique ability to portray both strength and vulnerability. This inner grace is contrasted with Broderick’s ineffectual man-child, a character that becomes ever more shameful as we recognize our own flaws in him.
As usual, Firth excels as Mr. Right, but never really sells the darker aspects of his character. This lack of depth also stunts Midler’s otherwise refreshing performance, so that, by the end, only one scene stays in the memory, a powerful confrontation between her and Hunt. The stark emotional impact of this moment stands out in a story in which you sympathise with the characters, but never really care about them. Michael Armstrong