May 15, 2008

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Then She Found Me (PG-13)
Colin Firth absolutely melts the hardest critic heart into a quivering pile of goo, while Helen Hunt, Bette Midler and Matthew Broderick are also pretty OK, in Then She Found Me, a somewhat stagey movie that nonetheless holds your attention.

And not just the Colin Firth parts.

We meet April Epner (Hunt) on the day of her wedding to Ben (Broderick). She’s, ahem, a bit older than the traditional bride but she’s nonetheless eager (very eager, a little heartbreakingly eager for someone who is 39) to get down to the business of starting a family. Even though both April and Ben are elementary school teachers and used to dealing with children, Ben doesn’t seem quite as eager to actually father any. Perhaps April knows this, perhaps that’s why she seems more sad than surprised when he rather ungracefully walks out on her. “At least it can’t get any worse,” she says to her brother — a kind of testing of fate somebody like April shouldn’t do.

It’s in her rather fragile state — lonely, getting a little desperate about the baby thing — that April meets two life-altering people. One is Bernice (Midler), a semi-famous TV talk show host who tells April that she’s her birth mother, along with some other “family history” that might or might not be true. Bernice is all sorts of things April isn’t — impetuous, flashy, dramatic — but part of April seems drawn to her, even seems to need her.

April’s other new find is Frank (Firth), the father of one of her students. He is, in a word, a wreck. His wife left him and their two children for another man and Frank still seems shell-shocked by her departure as well as by the inescapable madness of now spending all his time parenting his children by himself (children who are themselves angry and confused about what’s happened). But though Frank is a mess, he’s a marvelous mess. Awkward and disarmingly self-effacing, he sympathizes with and then starts to charm April, who sees with him the kind of adult relationship she never had with Ben.

Of course there are complications, with both Ben and Bernice, and April’s at times scary desire (as though it is something her whole life’s worth now rests on) for a child of her own leaves her so raw it can be difficult to watch.

There is a quality to some of the dialogue in this movie and to the way that the characters are sometimes framed in the shot that would lead you to believe (if you didn’t know differently) that this was a movie adaptation of a play. Then She Found Me is actually from a novel, not a play, but there is a stageyness to it. This isn’t altogether a bad quality nor is it one that truly gets in the way of getting lost in the story. But, particularly in the beginning of the movie, it can be disorienting and, at least momentarily, pull you out of the movie as if you had just been interrupted while reading and had to find your place again.

Some of this falseness works with the characters — Ben and April are, at the beginning of the movie, acting their relationship rather than actually having a relationship, particularly Ben. And once he leaves, April’s disorientation fits perfectly the perspective-shaking events that happen to her.

No one wears this movie’s quirks quite so well as Colin Firth. And no, this isn’t just some Pride & Prejudice flashback crush. He is here a kind of mature but goofy, witty but overwhelmed man of the thirtysomething’s dream. He’s a bit crazy but who wouldn’t be coming out the other side of a relationship that ended with one member of the couple so thoroughly crushed? He’s a perfect gentleman and remarkably patient but he also throws what he describes as a big “girly fit” at one point. He is just right the flavor of dreamy hunk for a bookish, dryly funny drama.

Helen Hunt’s hat trick here (co-writing, directing and starring in the film) might not be perfect on all counts but it is at least solid. Her on-screen performance is particularly strong, giving us a rare but welcome portrait of the kind of woman (late 30s, lonely, smart but fallible) not often seen in the movies. B

Rated R for language and some sexual content. Directed by Helen Hunt and written by Alice Arlen, Victor Levin and Helen Hunt (from a novel by Elinor Lipman),Then She Found Me is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by ThinkFilm.