We’ve all had our share of bad weeks and I’ve heard numerous times before that when it rains it pours but yet that still doesn’t seem to account for what happened to April Epner (Helen Hunt). A mere ten months into her marriage to Ben (Matthew Broderick), he decides he made a huge mistake. The next day, she goes to work, a school where she and Ben both taught to primary students, to find that he never showed up and is nowhere to be found. Within the week that follows, her adopted mother (Lynn Cohen) dies and her birth mother (Bette Midler) makes contact with her for the first time. It’s no wonder the bags under April’s eyes are so heavy.
Hunt’s directorial debut, “Then She Found Me”, begins so tragically but attempts then to lighten the mood with awkward comedy and untimely romance. The combination is a bizarre contradiction that just falls flat. It doesn’t feel right to laugh just yet as there hasn’t been time to mourn but we don’t want to mourn either as we only just met these folks. We don’t know how to feel or where to go and neither does the direction of the film. When the dust from April’s disastrous week finally begins to settle, the film finally begins to breathe normally again and finds a particular charm in its decidedly neurotic voice. Still, it is more unsettling than it is satisfying.
While Hunt may be overly sentimental as a director, she finds a certain harshness in her acting style that becomes the film’s most unifying source. As put upon as she is at this juncture in her life, she manages to juggle everything reasonably well by balancing between protecting herself, demanding what she deserves and allowing her defenses down at just the right moments and only to those who deserve entry. The woman deserves happiness, be that in the form of a new love with troubled suitor, Frank (Colin Firth), or by realizing her longtime desire to have a child, but her life only gets continuously more complicated, sometimes by her own doing. I would ordinarily want to hug someone in April’s position but mostly I just wanted to shake her.
What ultimately undermines “Then She Found Me” is its own air of self-loathing. Hunt spends so much time trying to incite sympathy for April by dumping so many hard realities on to her at once but then punishes her when all she has done is try to keep her head above water. It’s hard to feel love for a face on the screen when the woman who put her there hasn’t made up her mind herself.
Review by Joseph Bélanger