The first thing actress-turned-director Helen Hunt's film has going for it is a capable and enchanting cast that includes Hunt, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick, and Bette Middler. I have a hard time calling Then She Found Me a romantic comedy because, unlike recent additions to the genre, no one in this cast plays a scene for an easy laugh. Instead, each actor approaches his or her character as a human being — as complicated and flawed as any of us. The humor comes, as in life, with truth. Specifically, Midler's character could easily become a farcical caricature but instead is played with such restraint that the result is both touching and funny.
The movie follows April (Hunt), a middle-aged elementary school teacher who is adopted, yet when faced with trouble getting pregnant, refuses adoption as an option. Yes, Hunt is quite thin in this film, but it didn't shock me so much as it seemed like the physical state of a woman who is exhausted by her frustrating situation, which is compounded by marriage problems and a death in the family.
The joy of the movie comes from the way in which Hunt's character begins to open her heart to a new love — and to her biological mother. A touching story about motherhood? What perfect timing! To see the other reasons I enjoyed this little film,
I don't think I've ever seen adoption handled onscreen in quite this way before, specifically the way this story (based on the novel by Elinor Lipman) subtly explores the identity issues an adoptee may have later in life. April's struggle to come to terms with being an adopted child has started to seep into her daily life, and she tries to find clarity when it comes to her relationships. Matthew Broderick plays Ben, April's emotionally immature husband who decides he doesn't want to be married soon after they're wed. So, he moves in with his mom. Yeah, he's that guy. But despite his Peter Pan complex (and his less-than-crushworthy physique), April has a hard time moving on, even with the steadfast Frank (Firth playing a role that's familiar but no less adorable), who is ready and able to love her.
Just as April's love life couldn't be more complicated, her adopted mother dies and her charismatic, self-absorbed birth mother, Bernice Graves (Midler) decides she wants a relationship with her. Of course, Bernice doesn't bat an eye at the havoc she might wreak on her biological daughter's life by entering it. All of these forces combine to take April on an emotional journey that is interesting and often funny.
This film isn't perfect and some scenes feel just a touch overwrought, or the dialogue is a teeny bit stilted or "artsy" — a word that came to mind during exchanges like, "Is it you?" "It's me, is it you?" "It's me." But the performances are emotional and sometimes unsettling, the laughs are earned and best of all, the plot is anything but predictable. It all amounts to a terrific directorial debut by Hunt as well as a treat for those of us who like a good laugh and an honest tug at the old heartstrings. Take your mom if you can.
Photos courtesy of THINKFilm