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Then She Found Me (ThinkFilm, R)

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Hunt does a great job in her dual role. Her portrayal of a woman redefining her life is excellent. April is harried and downtrodden, but never inaccessible. April is definitely the victim, of bad luck, poor timing, and other’s self-centeredness, but she is not perfect. She has faults and makes bad decisions. She is a real person.

I usually avoid talking about what I like my reviews and try and evaluate a movie on its own terms, but Then She Found Me is so rife with things that stir strong emotions in me it is hard to set aside my prejudices. So this review is all about my personal likes and dislikes.

Then She Found Me is the feature film directorial debut of Helen Hunt. Hunt stars as April Epner an elementary school teacher dealing with a series of life changing events.

I love Helen Hunt, and not just as an actress, but as one of the stars I have longed for for decades. Hunt has been working in film and television for most of my life. She started on television in 1973, but in 1983 she won my heart as the titular Quarterback Princess; this after school special holds and important place in the pubescent development of men in their thirties. Hunt continued to charm television audiences in television specials, Bill: On His Own, and with a reoccurring role on St. Elsewhere. Eventually she landed the role of Jamie Buchman, Paul Reiser’s witty, funny, sexy, caring, and supportive wife, on Mad About You, and all women in the real world suffered in comparison. The first few seasons of that series solidified what had gone well beyond a crush for me from which I have yet to recover.

Bette Midler, Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick round out the cast of Then She Found Me. All of these actors elicit strong emotions from me. I hate Bette Midler. I cannot stand watching her do anything, from sing to Johnny Carson to appear on Seinfeld. Her acting is ham-fisted at its best, and her persona is grating. Her appearance in even a bit part can keep me from seeing a movie. Colin Firth has to be the blandest actor ever. He has one emotion—befuddled. He is unable to handle anything, the love of a woman, his children, betrayal, with more than an “oh well” expression. Somehow he is constantly ending up in movies I like. And other than the joy I garner from watching superior actors—Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, and Renee Zellweger—blow him off the screen, Firth offers me little enjoyment. Matthew Broderick is one of my favorite actors and has been for years. His charm and presence can elevate mediocre movies (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), or he can seamlessly assume a character (Election). I have pretty much loved everything he has ever done, except Sarah Jessica Parker (she just bugs me) and often times I only love a film because he is in it.

Needless to say I was torn entering the theatre for Then She Found Me. Fortunately Hunt’s acting and directing, Broderick, and the story overcame the obstacles. Hunt does a great job in her dual role. Her portrayal of a woman redefining her life is excellent. April is harried and downtrodden, but never inaccessible. April is definitely the victim, of bad luck, poor timing, and other’s self-centeredness, but she is not perfect. She has faults and makes bad decisions. She is a real person.

As a director Hunt benefits from an excellent script, which she helped Alice Arlen and Victor Levin develop from the Elinor Lipman novel. The story has heart, interesting twists, and well-developed characters. Hunt brings wonderful pacing, and a great sense of place, but her greatest achievement as a director is reigning in Midler and evoking something from Firth. Midler is still a bit plastic as April’s narcissistic birth mother, and Firth does not blossom into Pacino as the bewildered new man in April’s life, but both performances are by far the best of their careers. In both cases the actors’ default style fits the characters, but Hunt draws something deeper from each. Broderick is amazing. His husband who impregnates and abandons April the day before her mother dies provides much of the comedy relief and tension. It is an interesting turn for Broderick and he succeeds as the manipulative, man-child temptation.

Pulling all these people together is April’s struggle to have a child and create a stable life for it from the craziness around her. The film could easily settle into a Lifetime Channel Melodrama, but the excellent script, solid direction, and outstanding performances lift the film and summon genuine emotions. | Bobby Kirk

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