Then She Found Me, 100 mins, rated M, opening in cinemas on 15 May 2008.


(This is my review as  published in the May 2008 issue of The New South Wales Law Society Journal)

Then She Found Me is the first film directed by Helen Hunt, who won a Best Actress Oscar in 1997 for her performance in As Good As It Gets (directed by James L Brooks).

Hunt plays April Epner, a 39-year-old woman who has recently married a younger man, and whose biological clock has begun to tick very loudly. She is a teacher of primary school kids in New York and she’s very good with them.  She’d make an ideal mother, but Nature refuses to co-operate. She’s reluctant to consider adoption, mainly because she was adopted herself.  To make matters worse, her husband (Matthew Broderick) is a little immature, and suddenly decides that he doesn’t want to be married to her any more. After a torrid bout of “break-up sex”, he just disappears.

April is devastated, but life goes on. Back at school the next day, still in a state of shock, she meets a nice, attractive man (Frank, played Colin Firth) who’s the father of one of her students. They bond instantly, even though she’s a wreck and he is too.  His marriage broke up not long ago and he’s looking after two young kids and working as a book-blurb writer – from his car. Their lives are very messy. The timing is awful for a love affair.  Yet they are willing give it a try.  “It’s not gonna get any worse than this,” she tells him. But it does. April’s adoptive mother, whom she loves and cares for, dies in hospital.

As if things aren’t complicated enough already, now into April’s life comes Bernice Graves. Bernice is a local TV talk show personality, hilariously played by Bette Midler. She claims to be April’s biological mother. She says she’s waited until both April’s adoptive parents had died before contacting her, and now she wants to make up for lost time in their mother-daughter relationship. April can only listen in amazement as Bernice describes how she became pregnant with April after a one-night stand with Steve McQueen, and how she had to put April up for adoption when Steve returned to Ali McGraw!

If this is sounding like a melodrama, or a “women’s picture”, don’t be deterred. It is more in the nature of a screwball comedy. The film is loosely based on a popular novel by Elinor Lipman, and Helen Hunt says she worked for 8 years to bring it to the screen. She not only directed, but also produced the film, and co-wrote the screenplay with Alice Arlen and Victor Levin. “Everything I think or care about is in this movie,” Hunt told a film festival audience last year, and I think I understand what she means.  This is a very crazy, very funny and quite serious film about how we negotiate our way through the complexities of life and family in the 21st century.

Hunt has always had great comic timing as an actress, and she successfully transmutes those skills to direction. She is ably aided in this by Bette Midler, who skillfully underplays a potentially unlikeable character. Colin Firth, looking sloppy and disheveled, manages also to be sweet, vulnerable and very funny indeed. But he’s terrifying in his anger when he thinks he has been betrayed. Matthew Broderick is suitably boyish as April’s husband. The only false note in casting is Salmon Rushdie, who appears as an obstetrician, and doesn’t add much. At least Hunt resists the temptation to play that cameo for laughs.   

So much more happens in this film – maybe a bit too much. Hunt and the other writers have added quite a few elements to the novel. The beginning of the film is quite choppy, so it’s a little hard to follow. And in its final scenes, the film suddenly changes gear and enters the realm of the spiritual. But on the whole, Hunt manages the difficult balancing act of making a funny film that deals with serious issues, including that most intriguing of questions: what makes a mother?