Then She Found Me

Rating:

Romantic Dramedy

Main Cast: Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick

Director: Helen Hunt

Romantic comedy or romantic drama?  The lines get so fuzzy sometimes.  Most romances have elements of both and Then She Found Me is no different, though in my book the comedy takes a big back seat in this story of a lonely woman faced with a series of life-changing crises.

Helen Hunt both stars in and directs Then She Found Me.  She is April and as we enter the story she is marrying Ben (Matthew Broderick) in a traditional Jewish ceremony.  They seem happy and in love.  Unfortunately for April, that happiness is fleeting.  As her marriage crumbles and her adoptive mother falls ill she is faced not only with the prospect of being single, but also of never having the child she desperately wants and the sudden appearance of her birth mother.

That’s a lot to put on the plate of the main character.  The beginning of the movie, in which April’s life falls apart in fast motion, is played with just a smidge of a wink and a nudge.  It’s like slapstick tragedy, the arrival of a typically manic Bette Midler as the birth mother being the icing on the cake.  After that initial sequence the movie becomes more serious as April deals with the fallout of each trauma.  She struggles with the loneliness of being suddenly single, grief for her ailing mother and for the life she planned that she fears she will never live.  The sudden arrival of her birth mother does not assuage her grief but intensifies her stress and leaves her confused and miserable.

The brightest spot in April’s new life is the potential of a new relationship with the parent of one of her young students.  Frank (Colin Firth) is everything that Ben was not (read: a grown-up) but April is in too much turmoil to fully appreciate that despite her own angst she needs to do some growing up herself before this man will allow her into his life.

Then She Found Me isn’t a bad movie, nor is it a great one.  Of particular distinction are the character of Frank and the performance of Colin Firth.  Rather than being a typical rebound stooge whose only real role is to help April find herself, he is a full character with feelings and needs and responsibilities.  Frank does not take this relationship lightly and Firth is both charming and serious enough to help us see him as an important character rather than a device to help April move on with her life.

The same cannot be said for Bette Midler.  She simply does not fit well here.  She’s brazen and rude and plainly just Bette Midler.   Her schtick is unwelcome and discordant.  April’s initial reaction is gratifying but there’s still far too much Bette going on.  It’s distracting and over the top.

Helen Hunt is a beautiful woman and a decent actress.  In Then She Found Me, however, she looks skeletal and haggard, without any sparkle that might attract others.  She is certainly supposed to be distressed, but instead she looks nearly ill and so miserable that I want her to sit down and have a sandwich and a good cry.  April is usually reacting rather than acting and as a result plays the straight man in almost every scene.  She doesn’t get any of the levity that would help unburden her character so we could feel like she actually has the strength to go on.  Directing oneself is a tough task and Hunt almost directs herself out of her own movie by making her character so completely downtrodden.

In the end, Then She Found Me is a decent romantic drama with a sprinkling of levity and a moderately heavy dose of Bette Midler.  The relationship between Frank and April is sweet, complicated and satisfying, but the storyline with Midler is annoying.  Helen Hunt would have done well to put on a few pounds and look slightly less like a drowning puppy for her April to be more appealing and sympathetic but overall fans of Hunt or Firth should enjoy the film.  3 stars out of 5.

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