Then She Found Me
Helen Hunt tries to prove she can do it all--co-writing, directing, co-producing and starring--in this heartfelt dramedy about a schoolteacher in mid-life crisis. It's not ''as good as it gets'' but commendable nonetheless.
A New York schoolteacher (Hunt), who is painfully self-aware that her biological clock is ticking LOUDLY, finds herself thrust into a downward spiral. In quick succession her new husband (Matthew Broderick) of just a few months leaves her, her loving adoptive mother (Lynn Cohen) dies and then out of the blue a brassy talk show host (Bette Midler) shows up announcing she is her actual birth mother. As she tries to deal with all these massive changes, the opportunity for a new romance arises with the newly divorced father (Colin Firth) of one of her students. Both clearly have mending of broken hearts to do but the possibility that the chemistry is right-- even if the timing isn't--is too good to pass up.
Before taking matters into her own hands, Hunt--who a decade ago won an Oscar for As Good As It Gets and four Emmys for Mad About You--seemed past her creative peak. But this quiet independent labor of love may be just the ticket she needs to get back into the big leagues. With cheeks appearing more gaunt than usual, her shopworn appearance works well for a character in full crisis mode. Hunt very much convinces us she is resilient, if only hanging on through a series of sudden setbacks. Plus it's fortunate as the co-writer and director she clearly knows what Hunt, the actress, needs. The starry supporting cast is generally effective, particularly Midler nicely underplaying the AWOL mother who shows up expectedly. Her scenes with Hunt have a sweet authenticity about them that could have been lost had Midler resorted to her usual theatrics. Broderick has a couple of decent scenes as the immature, whiny hubby while Firth is always good--even here in an uneven role that seems a bit too convenient to ring true.
Helen Hunt is the daughter of veteran director Gordon Hunt, and her seeming confidence behind the camera (along with some prior TV experience directing a few episodes of Mad About You) must have been inherited. It's obvious she has also spent time watching the techniques of previous directors she has worked with, such as James L. Brooks and especially Woody Allen. Her feature debut has more than a few things in common with the Woodman's work. Her screenplay (co-written with Alice Arden and Victor Levin), based on Elinor Lipman's novel, nicely captures the Jewish milieu so prevalent in the book and a source of pride in the movie as well. It's no easy task playing the roles of writer, director and star but like Allen does so often, Hunt appears at ease and fully capable of getting just what she wants on screen. Downside is the mixture of comedy and drama requires a little more balance than is evident here, but as a first attempt, this modest tale of a school teacher searching for a personal rebirth deserves a solid "B."
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.