April 25, 2008

Review: Then She Found Me

It took Helen Hunt 10 years to make her directorial debut with Then She Found Me, but boy was it worth the wait. A beautiful and moving film, it tells the story of April Epner a 39-year-old schoolteacher who longs to have have her own child, but time is running out. She’s also a bit of a wreck. Her recent marriage to the immature Ben (Matthew Broderick) has fallen apart, her adopted mother dies, and then she is approached by her birth mother, local TV talk show host Bernice Graves, played by an over-the-top yet warmhearted Bette Midler. Bernice tells a variety of stories (you never know which one to believe) of how she gave up April all those years ago. A natural-born performer, she tries to win April over but fails miserably. In the midst of all this craziness, April meet Frank (Colin Firth), the father of one of her students, and then on top of it all, finds out she is pregnant by Ben.

All the above insanity might seem chaotic, but in Hunt's extremely capable hands, we are able to see flawed characters making everyday decisions and the implications each choice has on everyone else. This is an all-around effort for Hunt who, along with directing and starring, co-wrote the screenplay and helped produce the film. The fact that it exists at all is a testament to Hunt's perseverance. Hunt has said of her characters: “They’re all a little bit awful, they’re all a little bit wonderful, and that makes perfect sense to me.” And it makes perfect sense to the story; all these characters felt real.

Hunt makes a bold statement by making April a normal looking (almost) 40-year-old woman. She's a teacher, she's tired, and, above all, she's been beaten down by life. Hunt lets us see that on her face, allowing herself to be exposed on screen in a very gutsy way. It's been a long time since I saw a close-up of an actress where she wasn't botoxed to death and I could actually discern the reactions on her face.

Along with Midler, the supporting class is stellar. My crush on Colin Firth, as the solid but bruised good guy, stands as strong as ever. Matthew Broderick has gotten older (haven't we all), but he still retains this childlike quality and is perfectly cast as the pathetic Ben, who runs back to his mommy after he escapes April.

Ten years is a long time to try and get a movie made, but sadly for women directors, it's more typical that you would expect. In fact, two other recent releases by female directors, Tamara Jenkins (The Savages) and Kimberly Peirce (Stop-Loss) both endured 10 long years to get their sophomore efforts into the theaters. Here's to hoping that it doesn't take Hunt another decade for her sophomore effort. It would be such a shame after this auspicious debut.