|Seattle Times (May
2, 2008, by Moira Macdonald) - 2 out of 4 stars
Elinor Lipman's 1990 novel "Then She Found Me," about a likable schoolteacher named April who unexpectedly is reunited with her flamboyant talk-show-host birth mother, Bernice, is a delightfully funny read; effortlessly blending wit and warmth. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Helen Hunt's long-in-the-making film adaptation of the book (which Hunt directed and co-wrote). The film's story bears little resemblance to the book; more importantly, most of the wit has been neatly drained out, leaving a wan dramedy behind.
Movie adaptations, of course, have no obligation to be slavishly faithful to their source material, and some terrific movies based on books have wandered far from their origins. But a screenwriter needs to be able to capture the book's essence, the spark that made you remember it long after the covers were closed—otherwise, why make the movie? The almost screwball sparring and slow-forming affection between April (Hunt) and Bernice (Bette Midler) in the book is barely present here; instead, it's mostly about romantic angst (April is torn between two men, neither of whom exists in the book) and longing for a baby. The Bernice subplot at times seems almost an afterthought, and you wonder why the writers didn't just put the book aside and craft something entirely new, rather than jamming bushels of plot into an already established story.
On its own terms, the movie isn't a disaster; for a first film, it's not entirely unpromising. It's no easy trick to direct yourself, but Hunt (whose previous directing experience was limited to a handful of "Mad About You" episodes) turns in a wistful and at times quite moving performance. April, devastated by the departure of her husband (Matthew Broderick, in man-child mode), the death of her adoptive mother and her own lonely yearning for a child, walks as if she's been wounded. She looks gaunt and tired, as if taking care of herself no longer matters. (Considering that the film is part comedy, Hunt may have gone a little overboard in the deglamorizing; you start worrying, as Bernice might, about whether April is sleeping and eating.) Bernice appears, a charming single father (Colin Firth, used as casting shorthand—we know she'll fall for him, because he's Colin Firth) catches April's eye, the ex-husband returns and suddenly April's buying pregnancy tests.
The eventful screenplay doesn't give Hunt much time for chemistry with Firth or Broderick, and Midler's funny performance is doled out to us in little bits—a shame, as she's the liveliest thing in the movie. Bernice, whose television show is called "Bernice G!," is the sort who says everything as if she's talking into a microphone, and Midler's practiced spin on lines like, "He told me I had a perfect body, and I was too inexperienced to know he was right," give the movie a boost. But overall "Then She Found Me," though earnest and clearly heartfelt, just feels tired; like Hunt's sad-eyed April, it lacks spark.
(May 2, 2008, by Teresa Budasi)
Oscar-winning actress Helen Hunt makes her directorial debut with "Then She Found Me," in which she also stars and receives a writing credit. It's no wonder she looks so haggard throughout the film.
That said, there are some nice moments in "Then She Found Me," such as the scene where April (Hunt) and her brother Freddy (Ben Shenkman) are sharing a meal, and Freddy says to April: "You don't know what it's like to NOT be adopted."
As much as it pained Freddy to say it—he's embarrassingly teary-eyed as he does—it needed to be said.
April was adopted, and though she had a good relationship with her recently deceased mother and is close to Freddy, her adoptedness has consumed her. And now that she's an orphan again—their father died years earlier—the self-absorbed April is on a mission now more than ever to have a child of her own before it's too late. She's 39, and her mission is thwarted when her boy-man husband, Ben (a smarmy Matthew Broderick), leaves her after less than a year of marriage, complaining, "I don't want this life."
April's life snowballs from there into a complicated and emotional mess. Right after Ben leaves, she begins a flirtation with a divorced father of one of her kindergarten students, and then April's birth mother contacts her. And—oops/ yea!—it turns out April IS pregnant, the result of breakup sex with Ben.
Colin Firth and Bette Midler play the love interest and birth mother, respectively, and they are fun to watch. Both, in their scenes with Hunt, provide some of the other enjoyable moments in the film. Trouble is, they can't prop the story up well enough to hold it together.
Firth's Frank is a damaged man, still reeling from his wife leaving him with two young children to raise. He's dead tired all the time and works out of his car in the school parking lot. He's outwardly sensitive and sweet but inside he's given to fits of frustration that erupt when he's had all he can take.
Midler plays Bernice Graves, a talk- show host April has never heard of, which seems odd. Bernice is pushy and larger than life—someone who would make sure that her publicity people made her a household name. This is one in a handful of subtle inconsistencies that keep the worthwhile moments from connecting to anything. Others are: Bernice's inability to tell April the truth; April's "sleepover" with Frank; a spontaneously senseless act in the back seat of April's car.
What Hunt handles well is April's pregnancy. She doesn't let everyone's baggage create extraneous drama. That April is pregnant by one man and in love with another while trying to comes to terms with her own parentage does not keep her from experiencing pure joy over her condition.
April may be selfish but she's also focused and self-aware. She gives a poignant speech to Frank about hurting those you love and truer words are rarely spoken in films. It's another satisfying moment.
Hunt has what it takes to direct; you can see it here, in small doses. In an arena filled largely with men, it will be interesting to see what she does next.
|San Francisco Chronicle
(May 2, 2008, by Ruthe Stein)
"Then She Found Me" is targeted to Mother's Day as obviously as "Halloween" was to guess-what holiday. The new movie shrieks of motherhood—raising hot-button issues like biological clocks running down, the rights of birth mothers and whether to adopt or give artificial insemination a shot.
Helen Hunt stars as April Epner, a 39-year-old kindergarten teacher in New York City who is desperate to reproduce and who has all these issues descend on her slender shoulders at once. Immediately after burying the woman she always knew as mother, April is confronted by a frowsy, boisterous, stiletto-wearing local talk show host, Bernice (Bette Midler), who announces that she's her birth mother. Bernice is fast-talking and occasionally lies, as when she tells April that she's the product of a steamy one-night stand with Steve McQueen.
Then April accidentally becomes pregnant by the wrong guy (Matthew Broderick), her juvenile soon-to-be ex who moves in with his mother after April drops him, instead of Mr. Oh-So-Right (Colin Firth), a single dad whose child she teaches.
Both men accompany April to her ultrasound appointment, to the bemusement of her obstetrician (Salman Rushdie—yes, really—looking appropriately perplexed).
You would think that frontloading "Then She Found Me" with so much plot would make it play like a soap opera. But Hunt saves the movie from this fate in two ways. First she turns in a touchingly real performance, the best of her big-screen career. Forget that "As Good as It Gets" won her an Oscar. She's eons better and more realistic in this one. Her April becomes gaunter as pressures mount. She's so thin that her cheekbones—on a face seemingly devoid of makeup—are her most prominent feature.
By directing "Then She Found Me," Helen becomes its savior as well. This is her first feature film (although she directed episodes of her sitcom "Mad About You"), and her inexperience is obvious in the way the boom shows on the screen a couple of times. Segues between scenes are jerky instead of smooth.
But where it really matters—working with actors—veteran filmmakers could learn from Hunt. If she'd directed Midler when she began making movies, Midler might have had a film career instead of a sideline. Hunt knows when to rein in the Divine Miss M instead of allowing her to go into full Kabuki mode. It's believable that April, who has just lost her adoptive mother, would accept mothering from this relative stranger only because of the warmth and gentleness Midler displays between hammy scenes.
Unsure what to say when April realizes she's pregnant, Midler's Bernice lowers her voice and exhibits insecurity when she asks, "What would your other mother have said? Something really helpful, I bet?"
Hunt also coaxes pitch-perfect performances from Broderick and Firth. Broderick plays the ex-hubby like a big baby, constantly demanding attention. Firth's beau wins you and April over with his constant attention to his children. When his daughter has an ear infection, he makes it seem like a family outing to the hospital and asks April along. As she can plainly see, he is open to love.
But he has limits, which Firth demonstrates in an unexpected moment of anger. It scares April, who's counting on him to be the one she can count on.
Often when a novel rich with religious life, like Elinor Lipman's "Then She Found Me," is adapted to the screen, it winds up deracinated. Hunt and fellow screenwriters Alice Arlen and Victor Levin made a judicious decision to allow the Epner family to remain Jewish. To hear Hunt chant prayers in quite acceptable Hebrew is lovely. Thanks to Hunt's delicate work in front of and behind the camera, you understand April's need for guidance wherever she can find it.
(May 2, 2008. bu Paula Nechak)
Oscar-winning actress Helen Hunt multitasks as director/screenwriter and star of "Then She Found Me," a stinging comedy/drama based on a book by the popular writer Elinor Lipman.
While Hunt's directing debut is promising, if understated, it's her performance as schoolteacher April Epner that impresses the audience. The first glimpse of Hunt, who will forever linger in the mind's eye as Jamie Buchman, the healthy, assertive wife in the hit series "Mad About You," is startling. She's as drawn, raw, drab and fragile as your grandmother's faded wallpaper.
If the viewer can overcome that initial shock, a nice surprise is in store. Hunt crafts a "small moments" movie that captures nuance that we don't usually see in films these days. It resists drenching itself in style and tone and clever quips that only happen in movies, never in real life, and chooses substance instead.
April, at 39, is desperate to be a mother but her one-year marriage to her infantile, facile husband Ben (Matthew Broderick, who looks right for the part but doesn't have a lot to work with) suddenly unravels because he's commitment-phobic and unequipped to deal with a mature relationship. April also deals with her adoptive mother's death.
But, inevitably, one door closes and another opens. April befriends the recently divorced father of one of her students (Colin Firth, doing the damaged, cuckolded husband wonderfully—he steals the show). April also is contacted by a stranger who claims to be her birth mother. She's the iconic Bernice Graves (Bette Midler), a brassy, big-hearted, self-invented talk-show host with no boundaries and few ethics.
Nothing goes smoothly of course, but Hunt juggles her characters' flaws with a focus on insight and intuition and there are a couple of moments of confrontation, revelation and surprise—April's gynecologist is played by none other than Salman Rushdie—that she imbues with some heartfelt pain as well as comedic deftness.
But for as many nerves as she is willing to touch in her pursuit of the idea of creating family in all its guises, there is a ragged tempo to the movie that is distracting enough to mention. She rushes when she should slow down and she lingers on what is incidental to her story.
Still, you've got to laud Hunt's courage in giving up vanity and applaud a movie about the mystery of life that finds something thematically fresh in its telling, isn't afraid to wear its vulnerability in the open and has the guts to be raggedly honest.
|NBC News (Apr 25,
2008. by Jeffrey Lyons
...Colin firth co-stars. His character makes an unnecessary reference to his english roots to explain his accent. But he is compelling as a single father, a parent in the teacher's class. Lonely and on edge, he's drawn to her as a credible romance begins to bloom, their troubled psyches notwithstanding.
"Then She Found Me" is an intelligent, sensitive drama, a movie for adults with attention spans for a change. Helen Hunt's character is complex and vulnerable, and Bette Middler, as you might expect, steals her scenes. Colin Firth shows a wide range of emotions in a story about real people facing wrenching personal dilemmas and reacting credibly. Seek out this one.
|New York Post (Apr
25. 2008, by Lou Lumenick) - 3 out of 4 stars
...[Helen] Hunt has taken control of her career, not only starring but also making an auspicious debut as a writer-director on a smart little bittersweet comedy "Then She Found Me."
She plays April Epner, a 39-year-old teacher whose yearning for motherhood is dealt a blow with the collapse of her marriage to an immature co-worker (Matthew Broderick, real-life ex-boyfriend and co-star in the 1987 film "Project X").
April has barely recovered from the shock when her adopted mother dies and her birth mother, an overbearing TV interviewer named Bernice (Bette Midler), comes out of the woodwork wanting to be her best friend.
The reserved April is skeptical of Bernice's motives—especially after her newfound mom claims April is the product of a one-night stand with Steve McQueen. She's also leery of Frank, the newly divorced father of one of her students, played by Colin Firth, once again in Mark Darcy mode.
Even as she's being wooed by both of them and she begins bonding with Frank's kids, April is hit with another surprise—she's pregnant by her ex, who tries to seduce her into giving their marriage another try.
While there are plenty of laughs, Hunt doesn't play this for farce. Even Midler gives perhaps the most restrained, and arguably the most winning, performance of her screen career. There are also nice supporting performances by John Benjamin Hickey as Bernice's possessive assistant, and Salman Rushdie as a gynecologist.
As a director, Hunt allows herself to repeatedly be photographed in a less-than-flattering manner in "Then She Found Me." While it's great to see an actress in her age group who isn't Botoxed to death, frankly it would be a lot less distracting if she weren't so skeletally thin.
One for the grown-ups.
|New York Sun (Apr
25. 2008., by Meghan Keane)
Helen Hunt's new film, much like its star and director, is a slow burn. The story of a lonely woman confronted with the betrayal of her husband, her mother, and her God, "Then She Found Me" flirts with cinematic cliché but finds surprising rewards in its idiosyncratic story.
The film gets off to a sluggish start by dropping the audience into the lonely life of Ms. Hunt's character. April Epner, an unhappy elementary school teacher, desperately wants a baby. Adopted into a Jewish family, April narrates a Jewish proverb over images from her wedding to the teacher down the hallway (Matthew Broderick). At 39, it looks as though her chances of motherhood are growing slim. Then her husband leaves her. The next day, her adoptive mother dies.
But once she finds herself alone without a mother, a husband, or any hope of a child, April's life starts looking up. Soon her garrulous birth mother, Bernice (Bette Midler), seeks her out; then she begins an affair with the ultimate cinematic partner, Colin Firth (as a beleaguered single dad named Frank).
And yet the troubles in April's life persist. Bernice is selfish and abrasive (in a toned-down performance from Ms. Midler)—not the mother April pictured for herself. And once she thinks she has found the man of her dreams, she finally gets pregnant—with her ex-husband's baby.
The achievement of "Then She Found Me," Ms. Hunt's directorial debut, is in its reaction to these events. The film has its share of contrived moments. The timing of events is nearly implausible, and Bernice's method of finding April is mostly absurd. And when Mr. Firth appears in April's classroom the first time, it's hard to imagine that April's love problems will continue for long. His monologue on their first date is the kind of heartrending speech restricted to the realm of romantic drama.
But for all its well-crafted words, the film does an excellent job of depicting the poorly conceived events that occur in life. Starting from an almost-perfect formula for romantic comedy, "Then She Found Me" avoids a trite wrap-up by rejoicing in messiness. Scenes of fighting and sex are often stilted, confused, and rushed, a fact that begins to work in the film's favor as it demonstrates its dedication to the disorder of life.
It is easy for April (and the audience) to attribute her early disappointments to the absence of a shining knight, but as her lot improves and the problems continue, the film's philosophy shifts. April carefully measures her life in teaspoons, just to see it spilled out and set ablaze time after time. When she realizes she has the capacity to betray as well, the story starts getting somewhere.
Ms. Hunt has spent nearly the entirety of the past decade out of the spotlight, trying to adapt Elinor Lipman's book for the screen. Her role plumbs some of the same territory as her Oscar-winning performance in 1997's "As Good As It Gets," proving her skill with desperate, lonely women. But whereas her fragile screen presence sometimes borders on the histrionic, she quietly displays April's obsessions and introversions with a precise aptitude. She embodies this role fully, with her worn appearance underscoring April's counterintuitive control issues and her passive beauty.
It helps that Ms. Hunt's devotion to this project has rewarded her with a quality ensemble of stars. Along with the stunt casting of Salman Rushdie as her gynecologist, Ms. Hunt has surrounded herself with big-name actors whose skills eventually overcome the marquee justification for their roles. Ms. Midler takes to her role with such ease that it's hard to imagine a stint as a morning talk-show host isn't on her résumé somewhere, while Mr. Broderick's turn as April's schlubby husband, like his role as a pitiful high-school teacher in "Election," holds a strangely passive allure. As for Mr. Firth, once the peculiarity of his presence among these mortals passes, he can do no wrong as an on-screen love interest.
Ms. Hunt's script (with the help of Alice Arlen and Victor Levin) has changed the events related in Ms. Lipman's novel, but it retains a similarly witty approach to difficult subjects, resulting in an often weepy but nonetheless humorous account of this character's life that distances itself from the wallowing self-pity that the plot description might predict. If it takes Ms. Hunt 10 years to make a quality film, then we can wait around a while for the next one.
|Newsday (Apr 25,
2008, by Gene Seymour) - 3 stars
Gaunt, grim and wound as tight as a ukulele's string, April Epner (Helen Hunt), the elementary schoolteacher undergoing the mother of all midlife crises in "Then She Found Me," is a stern challenge to an audience's collective sympathy. We feel her pain, nonetheless, when, in swift succession, her adoptive mother dies, her Peter Pan husband (Matthew Broderick) abandons her for another woman and, out of the blue, her real mother (Bette Midler) turns out to be narcissistic talk-show queen Bernice Graves, who claims April is the fruit of a one-night stand with Steve McQueen.
That's enough screwball complexity for a season-long sitcom, though sitcom veteran Hunt, making her feature directorial debut here, is after something deeper and more challenging. She starts by making April difficult to like, especially in her brittle engagement with both Bernice and with Frank Harte (Colin Firth), a divorced dad to one of April's students and an earnest, willing bridge over April's troubled waters.
Hunt's touch behind the camera is sometimes as severe as her demeanor in front of it, though she can do some very nice things; especially within the intimate surroundings where her actors flourish. It's gratifying to see Midler carry out such a polished, nuanced comedic turn while Firth's stoic grace and wiry moodiness conspire—and almost succeed—in stealing the show.
...Colin Firth excels as the divorced dad seeking Hunt's favor.
|Toronto Sun (Apr
25, 2008, by Liz Braun)
Sincerity appears to be the goal in Then She Found Me, a generally endearing film about family in all its guises. The movie is the feature directorial debut for Helen Hunt, who also stars as April Epner, a New York schoolteacher.
April is 39, and she wants a child. She's had trouble conceiving. Her adoptive mother tells her that adopting a baby is the best bet, but April won't hear of it. April's timing may be off, anyway—her husband (Matthew Broderick) wants to separate, and things look bleak. Bleaker still, April's mom dies.
Out of nowhere, she hears from her birth mother, Bernice (Bette Midler), who suddenly wants to know the child she gave up for adoption so many years ago. Bernice is an aggressive talk-show host with plenty of big ideas about her newfound daughter, but April isn't sure she wants a relationship with this woman. For one thing, Bernice has claimed that Steve McQueen is April's birth father. Uh, huh.
And, on top of everything else, a new romance for April appears out of nowhere. Frank (Colin Firth, suitably rumpled for the role), the single father of one of her little students, asks her out. That puts April in the good company of Frank's two adorable kids, but April's pursuit of a child to call her own continues. (One or two details related to conception and pregnancy are really fumbled in the story, and it's annoying, but we can't say more without giving away too much. You can go see for yourself.)
Then She Found Me is based on the novel by Elinor Lipman. The movie presents both its comedy and drama elements with a pleasantly understated hand, but never quite gets the two sides to mesh. Among other problems, there's just too much going on here for the story to hang together, and April's desire for a child would have been more than enough material to work with.
Did we really need all the sitcom extra stuff—the on-again, off-again husband, the way-too-bumpy romance, the vaguely deranged behaviour of her birth mother? And what's up with Salman Rushdie playing a doctor? It's hard not to assume that Hunt threw everything she had at this first project—one would, after all—but maybe she underestimates her own talent as a director.
Then She Found Me is uneven, but entirely watchable, and Hunt gets terrific performances from both Bette Midler and Colin Firth.
She even manages to keep a movie that's in some ways all about children and parenthood completely treacle-free. That's one heck of an accomplishment.
|Toronto Star (Apr
25, 2008, by Philip Marchand) - 3 out of 4 stars
Then She Found Me rings interesting changes on the hoariest of all Hollywood formulas—girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl finds boy—and in the process manages to avoid banality by the skin of its teeth.
The girl in question is April Epner (Helen Hunt), an elementary schoolteacher, the adoptive daughter of a Jewish couple and, at the very beginning of the movie, the newly wedded wife of another teacher named Ben (Matthew Broderick.) It doesn't take long for disaster to strike. Ben leaves her, and her mother and only surviving parent dies.
Relief comes in the form of a divorced father of one of her pupils. Frank (Colin Firth) is any woman's dream, a manly but sensitive and witty soul whose first wife must have been insane to leave him.
The road to romance is clear—but of course, this being a movie, obstacles arise. One such obstacle is her lingering connection to Ben. Another is the intense desire for her own baby, a desire that seems to override any romantic attachments. "I can't explain it," she says. "It's like being hungry or having to pee. Please don't tell me to adopt."
Finally, there is the appearance of a brassy, local television talk show host, Bernice Graves (Bette Midler), who claims to be April's biological mother and is full of unwanted advice.
In her directing debut, Hunt maintains a smart pace, as the plot works its way through these complications in a convincing manner. It's a good sign when the directing doesn't call attention to itself, and that's more or less the case here. The important thing about Hunt as director, however, and what makes Then She Found Me worth a look, is her feeling for the other characters in the drama.
Frank is the least complicated of the lot. It's no accident that Firth also played Mr. Darcy in a televised version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice—Mr. Darcy is literature's all-time dream date and prime husband material, and Frank just about matches him in that department.
Ben, by contrast, is the perpetual American boy, with his soft body, sneakers, jeans, backpack and baseball cap. "I don't want this life," he whines, meaning adulthood. But he's nice. So is Bernice, a true vulgarian of our TV age, who feels "connected" to April and showers her with psychological nuggets such as: "You're sitting on anger," and, "That's just what you need, a great rebound affair."
If the movie had turned Bernice into a contemptible clown, it would have soured everything. In fact, the relationship of April and Bernice is more interesting than April's affair with Frank, and constitutes the soul of the movie. Need encounters need, but not in a craven manner.
April, with her perpetual air of being nonplussed and her awkwardness—she leaves coins instead of dollar bills in a tip jar, explaining, "I'm a teacher," and confesses that her favourite rock group is Fleetwood Mac—forms an effective contrast to Bernice.
There is also a hint of superiority in April's attitude, which might not be what Hunt intended. If so, it's just another subtle spice, another interesting ingredient—like the movie's flirtation with religious emotion—in this pleasant and artfully flavoured dish.
|Vancouver Sun (Apr
25, 2008, by Jay Stone) - 3½ stars
April Epner is a nice Jewish schoolteacher having a terrible week. First her chubby, whiny husband Ben (Matthew Broderick, who does chubby, whiny as an art form, although not one you'd want to perfect) announces that he wants to leave her.
Then her adoptive mother dies, but not before reminding April that, at 39½ years old, it may be too late to have the child she always wanted and maybe she should think of adoption herself ("In China they're throwing them into trash cans."). Then she finds her birth mother and it's Bette Midler. Then Frank, the father of one of her pupils, seems to be making a pass at her.
Well, maybe it's not as bad as all that. Frank is played by Colin Firth, creating a memorably discombobulated character—a single father barely making do after his wife left him—who is at once charming, distracted, eager, mad and funny. "It was traumatic and potentially illuminating to have met you," he tells April after their stumbling first meeting, which sounds very much like love at first sight.
This collection of disasters, hard to accept at first, are cobbled together—awkwardly but sweetly—in Then She Found Me, a raggedy romantic comedy-cum-drama that is the first movie directed by Helen Hunt. She has a delicate touch: you can see it in the way she frames April, her heroine, as a worn, weary and lovely woman who's edging into middle age with sharp features and a sharp sense for new humiliations to come. April, as it happens, is played by Helen Hunt, and if she seems to get a generous amount of screen time from the director, at least she's just as confused as anyone.
Based on a novel by Elinor Lipman, Then She Found Me is a small film that had a long gestation period—it was initially supposed to be a Sigourney Weaver project—and comes to the screen looking scaled down and much the better for it, a scrawny little movie at once endearing and improbable.
Hunt is a performer without fussiness (April is a cousin of her waitress character in As Good As It Gets; call this one As Bad As It Gets), Midler tones down her brassy Broadway persona (although she still looks very much like Milton Berle in drag) and Firth manufactures a memorable love interest out of several bits and pieces, mostly exasperation, insecurity and confusion. His changes of tone are like a metaphor for the many colours of the movie itself, which never finds firm footing but plows ahead anyway, daring us to not be captivated.
The ups and downs revolve around the several stories being told at once. April's reunion with Bernice (Midler), who turns out to be a semi-famous TV personality, is an odd couple clash of personalities and acting styles with some low-key getting-to-know-you talks (Bernice: "I'm very verbal during sex." April: "I'm afraid of drowning." Bernice: "During sex?" April: "No, just in general.")
April's desire to have a child becomes a quick tour through Hollywood's latest obsession, pregnancy and adoption, spiced up with the casting of Salman Rushdie as an obstetrician (Then She Found Me is a low-budget affair, but some celebrity appearances remind you that it was made by an Oscar-winner).
The people in Then She Found Me are a mixture of good and bad, and their confrontations are often not solved well, or even at all. Broderick is allowed to be immature. Firth is allowed to be angry. Hunt shows her wrinkles. Midler doesn't sing.
The movie got a special screening at last fall's Toronto film festival, before it had a distributor, and it got a standing ovation. You can see why: it's melodrama, but it's likable melodrama, a crowd-pleasing foray into the minefield of female middle age that's not afraid of a few bad decisions and even the odd explosion. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll wonder where all the men like Colin Firth have been hiding.
|Globe and Mail
(Apr 25, 2008, by Stephen Cole) - 2 stars
Helen Hunt's directorial debut is the story of April Epner, a 39½-year-old schoolteacher who wants to have a baby. Her mom, a pursed-lip bulldozer from the Sophie Portnoy School of Parenting, wants her to adopt already. And put a warm sweater on, for heaven's sake.
April gets married and is instantly pregnant. Her mother dies, perhaps of shock. But wait, there's more: April's husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick), takes off in fright just as a new man, Frank (Colin Firth) enters her life. Soon, a new bulldozer arrives as well in the form of Bernice Graveman (Bette Midler), a sashaying TV talk show host and April's biological mother....
Then She Found Me is advertised as a Quality Women's Picture. That typically suggests a character-building ordeal. But the early appearance of Firth—handsome, noble Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice—signals that April is in for a pretty soft ride.
Nothing wrong with that. Lord knows, movies offer up lots of pep talks for middle-aged guys. Nor is it necessarily a problem when the film plays cute, taking on the cozy, familiar air of an extended sitcom. For instance: a scene where Ben and Frank crowd into an obstetrician's waiting room with April. Or a sequence when April gets caught in an impromptu sleepover at Frank's by his little boy.
No, there isn't anything wrong with comfort entertainment. Then She Found Me could have, should have been something special—a Knocked Up for weary boomers. The only hitch is that it isn't all that entertaining. Nor comforting for that matter.
The problem is the men in April's life. Broderick's Ben looks and acts like a middle-aged Beaver Cleaver: same ball cap and windbreaker, same quizzical expression. He even lives with his mom on a tree-lined residential street. And while Colin Firth's Frank has the bearing of a nobleman, when the going gets rough, he turns into Basil Fawlty, storming out of rooms to hurl profanities into the wind. April shouldn't be sharing her bed with these problem Peter Pans; she should be charging $12 an hour to babysit them.
Mind you, Helen Hunt's characters have always had men problems. In the TV series Mad About You, she smiled through six seasons of marriage to fusspot Paul Reiser, winning four Emmys. Her waitress with a heart of gold prevailed over Jack Nicholson's obsessive-compulsive meanie in As Good as it Gets. She won an Academy Award for that role.
That's a lot of medals for enduring domestic hardship. And there is something about Hunt's screen persona, a practical, all-weather cheer, that invites strangers with hard-luck stories. She has made a career out of playing the good sport in difficult circumstances.
It's great to see her onscreen again, smiling and coping, warm and funny as ever. But playing Everywoman comes at a cost: Every woman and man gets to have a say on your relationships. It's not likely that her audience will approve of either of Hunt's men in Then She Found Me. Nor will they find comfort in April's decision to play better and worse with the less creepy of the two. Joan Crawford has been dead 30 years. Women no longer go to movies to be reminded that it is their job to suffer—for that kind of cheerless advice, they can always go to their mothers. Neither Frank nor Ben is as good as it gets. Helen Hunt deserves better.
|New York Daily News
(Apr 25, 2008, by Elizabeth Weitzman) - 2 out of 5 stars
It's hard to know if Helen Hunt chose to star in her own directorial debut because she wasn't getting enough good scripts or because she came cheap. But it seems clear that she had no one offering an outside perspective, which might have kept this promising dramedy on track.
Hunt's character is April Epner, a 39-year-old teacher whose husband (Matthew Broderick) wants a divorce. This news doesn't seem to faze her much; within days, she has already fallen for a charming single dad (Colin Firth).
What does bother April is her biological clock, whose ticking sounds ever louder in her ear. Adding to the din is Bernice (Bette Midler), a flamboyant stranger claiming to be April's long-lost birth mother. And just as she's adjusting to so many changes, April gets the exciting, and unexpected, news that she's pregnant.
"Then She Found Me" has some nice moments, but it feels very much like a first film. The pacing is off, and the cast members appear to be acting in completely different projects. Midler is broadly funny, Hunt is quirky-serious, and Firth is simply dreamy—in other words, they all deliver what we've come to expect from them. But their disconnect is especially obvious because Hunt can't get a grasp on her movie's difficult, unrealistic dialogue.
Without strong guidance, the self-conscious lines make the characters sound like, well, characters rather than actual human beings.
On the bright side, Hunt's script—which she and two co-writers loosely adapted from Elinor Lipman's novel—is generally sweet and gently amusing. And the truth is, moviemaking is a slippery task for even the most experienced director.
|LA Times (Apr 25,
2008, by By Carina Chocano)
[T]his week offers up two such movies—one a bright, broad comedy starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and another a narrower, flintier movie starring Helen Hunt and Bette Midler. Despite the appearance of Midler, "Then She Found Me" treats the subject more dramatically, likening the desire to have a child to hunger, thirst or the urge to relieve oneself—all three longings that will make anyone cranky, Hunt especially.
The problem isn't so much the character of April as it is the way Hunt plays her—a little too whiny, a little too angry to be very sympathetic. Hunt has a tendency to play up those characteristics in just about everything she does (since her days as the put-upon shiksa in TV's "Mad About You"), but the movie would have been better served with a more relaxed actress in the role. The equating of smart and no longer young with angry and bitter has so plagued women's roles in recent years that it seems a shame it should recur in a movie written and directed by a woman, from a novel also by a woman.
Despite this slight casting misstep (Hunt, who also makes her feature directing debut, has said in interviews that she chose herself to play the lead because she knew that with budget and time constraints she'd be asking more from her lead actress than was seemly), "Then She Met Me" is unexpectedly sharp, light and appealing; a testament to Hunt's skills behind the camera. (She also co-wrote the script with Victor Levin, from the novel by Elinor Lipman, as well as produced.)
A low-key, rather consoling fantasy deftly masquerading as way-we-live-now slice of life, the movie concerns a rather grim schoolteacher, April Epner (Hunt), who loses everything at once and gains it all back, only better. Her immature husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick), leaves her after just one year of marriage and her abrasive adoptive mother Trudy (Lynn Cohen) dies soon afterward, at which point Colin Firth and Bette Midler appear almost instantly to take their places.
Firth plays Frank, a book-jacket writer with two young children—one of them is in April's class—whose wife left him and the kids to travel the world with her new boyfriend. Within moments of meeting April, he offers her the kind of earnest, uncomplicated, soulful love that in the real world could only be classified as pathological, solipsistic neediness, but which here comes off as charming and virile. Midler plays the antidote to April's quarrelsome adoptive Jewish mother, who even from her deathbed refuses to give it a rest. (Trudy wants April to adopt a little girl from China.)
Midler plays Bernice, a local celebrity talk show host, whose attitude toward life couldn't be more different from April's. In fact, given the general air of moroseness that surrounds the other characters, Bernice's scenes inject a dose of sunshine. But April is resistant to Bernice's brand of happy, until she learns she is pregnant with her now-absent husband's child and turns to Bernice for advice.
There's something about Hunt's put-upon persona that grates, and it would be nice to see her for once in a role that doesn't call on her to be so angry, short-tempered and disappointed all the time. Midler's character is radiant by contrast, and much smarter-seeming for knowing how to live. Still, all in all, "Then She Found Me" is a warm, entertaining and well-made little movie and an auspicious debut for Hunt the director.
|The New York Times
(Apr 25, 2008, by Stephen Holden)
“Then She Found Me,” a serious comedy, is more impressive for what it refuses to do than for its modest accomplishment. The directorial debut of Helen Hunt, who plays April Epner, an anxious 39-year-old kindergarten teacher in New York City, it has all the ingredients of a slick, commercial farce, which it emphatically is not.
In fact, the movie, based on a novel by Elinor Lipman, has enough material for two such farces. In one, a childless mother obsessed with her ticking biological clock becomes pregnant after clumsy breakup sex with her husband of less than a year. (Her obstetrician is played by, of all people, Salman Rushdie.) In the other, a woman who has just lost her adoptive mother is suddenly besieged by a garrulous local talk-show personality who claims to be her biological mother.
The movie is unusually sensitive to the anxieties around adoption. Shortly before her death, April’s ailing mother (Lynn Cohen) argues that there is no difference between raising an adopted child and one of your own; her daughter should cease fretting and adopt a Chinese baby, she declares. April’s vehement refusal to consider the possibility rings as a tacit insult to her mother’s parenting skills, but the simmering conflict is never brought into the open.
Ms. Hunt takes every opportunity to avoid easy comic shtick and cutesy-poo sentimentality in an effort to make her characters act and sound like real people. Where typical Hollywood comedies erase ethnicity, Ms. Hunt emphasizes her characters’ various shades of Jewishness. April doesn’t seem especially religious, but in the opening scene she goes through a Jewish wedding ceremony with her childish husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick), who goes to live with his mother after their breakup. “Then She Found Me” also clearly indicates that the characters’ lifestyles are not unrealistically comfortable.
All the stars, including Ms. Hunt, are pointedly deglamorized. April, alarmingly gaunt, with straining neck tendons, appears to wear little or no makeup. As her biological mother, Bernice Graves, Bette Midler is a blowsy, plump loudmouth and bottle redhead whose obsequious behavior makes much of what she says sound false. Indeed some of it is. In her first of several lies, she claims that April was conceived in a delirious one-night stand with Steve McQueen and relinquished for adoption after three days.
April’s would-be romantic savior, Frank (Colin Firth), the recently divorced father of two children (one is April’s pupil), looks as if he is going to seed. Spluttering, neurotic and hot-tempered, he has all the romantic promise of an over-the-hill Lancelot astride a tottering nag. Frank also lives in a seedy suburban neighborhood far from any center of action. Mr. Broderick’s Ben is a bloated, inarticulate man-child. His two awkward sex scenes with Ms. Hunt (one in the back seat of a car) are desperate, joyless quickies that involve minimal undressing and leave April confused and Ben apologetic.
It falls to Ms. Hunt to stir these character types and clichéd situations into a palatable stew of genuine human emotions. As April cautiously makes her way, you can feel Ms. Hunt, both as director and actor, discarding sitcom conventions to shoot for something deeper and truer. And she achieves it, mostly through the shaded performances of Mr. Firth and Ms. Midler, as well as her own.
Mr. Firth’s Frank is hyper-emotional to a degree rarely seen in male characters in mainstream movies. When Frank gets upset, which is frequently, his face reddens, he bluntly speaks his mind and he often excuses himself to go for a walk and let off steam. Ms. Midler’s Bernice is a credible portrait of a narcissistic drama queen with a good heart beneath her celebrity bluster.
Connections between the characters deepen in spite of misunderstandings and obstacles. After April and Frank acknowledge their mutual attraction, their wary courtship proceeds in fits and starts, but they keep at it. Life isn’t easy for April as she muddles along, but you feel she is headed in the right direction.
(Apr 15, 2008, by Rex Reed)
Then She Found Me, directed and co-written by Helen Hunt, who also stars, is a funny and touching story about the way we create families both by blood and by choice. April Epner (Hunt) is 39 and her biological clock is sounding an alarm. When she gets dumped by her charming but adolescent husband (Matthew Broderick, who specializes in such things) as a marital mistake, one door closes, but another one bursts open. Enter Bette Midler, as a brash, overwhelming and thoroughly obnoxious talk show host named Bernice, who drops in out of the blue to declare herself April’s biological mother. The jaw-dropping cherry on top of the Sunday sundae: April is the result of a one-night stand Bernice had 40 years ago with Steve McQueen.
Both devastated and baffled, April finds an escape from her screwed-up life in the arms of Frank (Colin Firth, who steals the movie), a handsome, warm, understanding and conveniently single father whose wife deserted him and their children. Mothering a ready-made family and tackling a new relationship at the same time presents double jeopardy, but the emotional minefields really explode when April discovers she is pregnant herself! Events unfold with a quiet dramatic trajectory, interrupted by unnerving needle pricks of humor. Always there is the thread of moody, contemplative silences as affecting as two bare feet touching under a cafe table. What’s lacking in big emotional outbursts is compensated by Ms. Hunt’s desire to explore a woman’s most painful anxieties.
O.K., it’s not Barbara Stanwyck in No Man of Her Own or even Lucille Ball in Yours, Mine and Ours. But the Hunt-Firth team has a glowing chemistry; the human strain in his eyes and on his brow is unsentimental but on the verge of tears. Midler has her moments, too. Less fun since she turned from the Divine Miss M into the head of the local Hadassah, she’s still a force of nature capable of creating her own bombast, to the detriment of anybody who shares the screen. She’s a fine catalyst as the larger-than-life hurricane who forces April to question the neat, dull, cookie-cutter existence she’s ordered for herself, as if from a caterer. Debuts can be dicey, but as a director, Helen Hunt handles the reins sweetly, but with control and finesse. Actors directing themselves: Not always a good idea, but this time you go away impressed.
|Variety (Sept 30,
2007, by Joe Leydon)
Thesp Helen Hunt makes an exceptionally deft and self-assured debut as a multi-hyphenate with "Then She Found Me," a smart, subtle and seriously funny dramedy bound to find favor with sophisticated auds. Given the blood-sport that is theatrical distribution in today's highly competitive indie marketplace, pic will require slow rollout, savvy marketing and high-profile tub-thumping by its director-star to generate awareness and realize potential. Appreciative reviews and word-of-mouth should help, but the real pay-off may not come until viewers find Hunt's labor of love in ancillary venues.
Hunt the auteur is well-served by Hunt the actress in the lead role of April Epner, a 39-year-old New York schoolteacher who's painfully aware of her ticking biological time clock. She's ambivalent about her experiences as an adopted child, despite her regard for her ailing adoptive mother (Lynn Cohen), but that makes her even more eager, if not desperate, to have a child of her own.
Unfortunately, April's parenting plans are cut short when Ben (Matthew Broderick), her boyishly immature husband of a few months, decides their marriage was "a mistake." (He, not she, bursts out crying during a seriocomic break-up scene.)
Frank (Colin Firth), a recently divorced father of one of April's students, offers brutally pragmatic advice : "Don't do anything until you've slept. Don't let anybody try to set you up with anyone."
But just when April's life is returning to an even keel, her adoptive mother dies.
So April is all the more emotionally vulnerable—and, at the same time, warily skeptical—when brassy, self-absorbed Bernice (Bette Milder), a local TV talkshow host, introduces herself to April and says she's her biological mother.
Working from a novel by Elinor Lipman, which she adapted with co-scripters Alice Arlen and Victor Levin, Hunt prioritizes consistency of tone and appropriateness of scale, even while maneuvering through vertiginous mood swings. Pic often is extremely funny, but the comedy always remains rooted in sharply and warmly observed reality. (A nice touch: Most of the characters are Jewish, and their traditions clearly mean much to them.)
To be sure, there's a least one instance of casting as a kind of sight gag—Salman Rushdie (yes, that Salman Rushdie) cameos as a bemused obstetrician—but even this isn't played for big yucks. Indeed, "Then She Found Me" is a low-key comedy in which characters always seem just one misstep away from full-out tragedy.
Hunt effectively deglamorizes herself as Alice, often appearing positively gaunt as the schoolteacher steels herself for life's next curveball. At the same time, she conveys nimble intelligence and self-deprecating humor, winning attributes that solidify her claim on aud sympathies.
As a filmmaker, Hunt makes wise choices with a consistency that bespeaks of skill and sensitivity. Better still, she avoids predictability.
Bernice's assistant (John Benjamin Hickey) obviously nurses a heavy crush on his employer , but absolutely nothing comes of this. And when Alice confronts Bernice about the real reason why, long ago, the older woman put her infant daughter up for adoption, Bernice's innate selfishness is neither denied nor decried.
That Bernice remains amusing and engaging is a tribute to Midler's shrewd underplaying of a character that could come off as a caricature. The same sort of emotional truth resounds in Firth's portrayal of sweet-natured fellow who's genuinely startling in his ferocious anger and deep anguish when he feels he has been betrayed. Ben may be the most lightweight character in the mix, but Matthew makes the fellow's Peter Pan Syndrome oddly poignant.
Production values are solid for a small-budget indie.
(Sept 11, 2007, by Allan Hunter)
It's all about family in Then She Found Me, a thoughtful directorial debut from actress Helen Hunt that explores the ties that bind and the search for meaningful relationships. The potential for heart-tugging excess is largely avoided in an approach that favours discretion over flashy histrionics. The material may still be too soapy for some tastes but older chic flick aficionados will appreciate a likable mixture of laughter, tears and home truths that is marked by a welcome sense of restraint.
The audience that identified with In Her Shoes or swooned over several helpings of Bridget Jones's Diary should provide the core demographic for Then She Found Me and ensure a decent theatrical success domestically although international prospects will be softer.
In the decade since As Good As It Gets, Hunt has amassed a number of interesting credits without ever finding another role that matched the complexity and pathos of her Oscar-winning performance opposite Jack Nicholson. That may partially explain why she has written, produced and directed a film that that not only contains that elusive role but proves she has the ability to carve out a second career in the director's chair.
Then She Found Me is an adaptation of Elinor Lipman's 1990 heartwarmer that has been updated and altered to a point where it is almost unrecognisable beyond the bare bones of some plot elements. The adaptation loses some of the wry subtleties and bitter ironies of the novel but that is unlikely to be a major issue for mainstream filmgoers. Hunt stars as April Epner, a thirty-nine year-old teacher who is abandoned by her immature husband Ben (Broderick) hours before the death of her adopted mother.
She is desperate to have a child and find a mate in that order. Her prayers are answered all too easily by her sudden attraction to middle-aged divorcee and father of two Frank (Firth). The complications are only just beginning as she is then approached by television celebrity Bernice Graves (Midler) who claims to be the mother who gave her up for adoption all these years ago after a brief liaison with Steve McQueen.
Then She Found Me is a mid-life crisis played out in scenarios where too many options complicate rather than ease the burden of deciding what April really wants from life. Frank is just perfect but ex-husband Ben remains inexplicably irresistible. The irrepressible Bernice could be a girl's best friend if April could only believe a word that the needy, self-dramatising woman utters.
Hunt avoids the temptation of a first time feature director to use the film as a calling card that displays her virtuosity with the camera and fondness for pyrotechnics. Instead, she takes a very measured, mature approach in which careful compositions and unobtrusive camerawork are used to serve the story with classical elegance. Her empathy with actors is one of the film's strongest virtues.
Bette Midler resists the temptation to paint Bernice as a grand dame life force. Subdued and disciplined, she creates something real and believable rather than indulging the easier instinct of high camp, larger than life. Firth is cast to type as the diffident, self-deprecating English romantic but seems more comfortable here than in recent outings like When Did You Last See Your Father. There is also a bizarre cameo from a slightly bemused Salaman Rushdie as a genial gynaecologist.
Hunt is excellent in a role that plays to her well-honed strengths for bittersweet drama and it is not inconceivable that she might attract awards consideration for a finely nuanced performance that dominates every frame of the film. Ten years after As Good As It Gets and disappointments like Pay It Back and Curse Of The Jade Scorpion, Hunt has finally found a creative second wind.
(Sept 9, 2007, by James
For years, Helen Hunt came into our living rooms as the female lead in the TV sit-com Mad about You. Motion picture fans may be more familiar with her for The Waterdance, Twister, and As Good as It Gets. Now, in addition to appearing in front of the camera, she’s behind it. Then She Found Me is not only Hunt’s directorial debut, but it’s the first time she has tried penning a screenplay (adapting Elinor Lipman’s novel along with co-writers Vic Levin and Alice Arlen). She has also brought aboard a respectable cast that includes Colin Firth, Better Midler, and Matthew Broderick.
Unfortunately, this is the sort of movie that gives “chick flicks” a bad name. It’s a cross between inept melodrama and a bad sit-com. The “comedy” (for lack of a better word) is obvious, poorly timed, and not especially funny. The “drama” (again, for lack of a better word) is sloppy, sappy, and ineffective. I imagine we’re supposed to feel empathy for these characters but, with one exception, they are self-absorbed whiners who pretty much deserve what they get. The big emotional catharses at the end are intended to make us smile with delight that everything has turned out okay.
April Epner (Hunt), teacher and all-around child-lover, is having a bad time. Her husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick), has announced that he doesn’t feel comfortable being married. He wants out of their union so he can go back and live with his mother. Meanwhile, April’s mother has died and her birth mother (she was adopted as a baby) chooses this opportunity to make contact. Essentially, April’s life has turned into the refrain from a country song. Things don’t get better when she meets with her new old Mom, Bernice (Bette Midler), who wants to make up for 39 years of lost bonding by smothering her daughter and prying into every corner of her crumbling life. For April, things are about to change. She discovers that a bout of “goodbye sex” with Ben led to the conception of a baby, which puts a crimp into her fledgling relationship with Frank (Colin Firth), the divorced father of a boy in April’s class.
Of the actors, only Colin Firth gets a pass on this one. He invests Frank with a lot of passion. In fact, this is perhaps the most emotive I can recall the normally laconic British thespian ever being. Helen Hunt is okay, but she’s really just playing a variation on her normal theme. Bette Midler’s brassiness is toned down a little, although she’s still irritating. And Matthew Broderick is so low-key that there are times when one forgets he’s even in the movie.
If there’s a tearjerking trick that Then She Found Me misses, someone will have to enlighten me as to what it might be. As far as I can tell, Hunt pulls out all the stops her attempts to irritate the tear ducts, but it doesn’t do her much good. It’s necessary to care about the characters for the tragedies in this movie to have any impact. There’s more genuine pathos in the one tear that runs down Hal Holbrook’s cheek in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (to be discussed in a day or two) than there is in the whole of Hunt’s motion picture. The degree to which this movie fails may not be shocking but it is disappointing.
|The Hollywood Reporter
(Sept 8, 2007, by John DeFore)
Playing like an adult woman's rejoinder to the Peter Pan factor in recent rom-coms, "Then She Found Me" prefers the mature man to the overgrown boy, gets knocked up without freaking out, and never—well, maybe once—goes for the startling gag over the pointed observation. With subtle laughs but solid emotional thrust, it will play very well with older audiences.
In her debut as feature director, Helen Hunt also stars as a teacher whose husband has a change of heart after less than a year of marriage. The earth beneath her continues to shake as her adoptive mother dies and her purportedly real one—self-obsessed talk show host Bernice, played with pushy panache by Bette Midler—makes her presence known.
Not a good time for new love, which makes the immediate arrival of Frank such a perfect vehicle for Colin Firth's patented choked-back-emotions act. Frank is the recently-divorced dad of April's student, and the two make a valiant (but doomed, natch) attempt not to ask each other out. Their quick rapport contrasts with the tentative relationship, threatened by half-truths and showbiz flakiness, between April and Bernice.
Then April, who has been worrying about getting too old to have a child, learns her estranged husband got her pregnant on the night he left—just the spark needed to kick all the plot's tricky relationships into high gear at once. April's poor obstetrician (a truly left-field celeb cameo) hardly knows how many supporters she'll have with her each time she's due for an ultrasound.
Things are moving quickly, but Hunt aims for restrained believability rather than glossy bounce. The script isn't afraid to crack a joke, but it also doesn't want to exploit April's angst for cute laughs; accordingly, Hunt the director allows Hunt the actress to look realistically beat-down from time to time. The relatively sober mood means that when things turn ugly, the blow-ups don't come off as manufactured plot points. (That's particularly true with Firth's character, a memorably damaged suitor.)
The picture is set apart not only by its tone but by the way it takes seriously some elements that might get reduced to window-dressing in a movie more carefully engineered to reach the broadest audience: details of the protagonist's Jewish upbringing, for instance, but especially the attitude toward children, who here aren't fashion accessories but an essential part of the way April and Frank think about where they stand with each other.
That's not the kind of consequence-factoring theme you find in the average date movie, but it helps give "Then She Found Me" a character that many viewers will respond to.
Bottom Line: Assured directing debut by Helen Hunt is a rom-dramedy for adults.