A sobering antidote to "Baby Mama," Helen Hunt's feature directorial debut, "Then She Found Me," is not for the faint of heart. Loosely based on a novel by Elinor Lipman, this raw and wholly relatable story drifts from deep to depressing to spiritual to uplifting.
In a sympathetic and gripping performance, Hunt shines as the resolute but emotionally exposed April Epner. Abandoned by her husband and facing the death of her mother, she stands in stark contrast to the coifed, conquering type usually shown in modern New York City movies. Here: not much culture, not much luxury, not even broken-down neighborhoods. Just broken marriages, broken promises and shattered dreams.
Informed her birth mother is a "well-known celebrity," April is curious but wary. No longer able to trust, she tentatively meets Bernice and is once again, disappointed. Bette Midler plays the mother and gives a reserved, tender and believable performance as the liberated '70s gal who found motherhood standing squarely in the way of opportunity and opted for the latter.
Related or not, the two could not be more different. While one is confident, curious and often beaming with certainty, the other appears wounded, tentative and withdrawn. Desperately trying to connect with her adult daughter, Bernice makes her share of touching and often funny blunders, but never gives up. Claiming April is "the reward for everything I ever did right in my entire life," she also offers such corny comfort as "You are the most important thing on earth to me."
It's not long before April has had enough and dismisses her zealous new relative with a curt, "It was traumatizing and potentially illuminating to have met you." Bernice does not back down, glibly observing, "Everyone needs family."
In the midst of all of this unwelcome discovery and deception, April finds herself attracted to Frank, the father of one of her students. Handsome, grouchy and overwhelmed, Frank openly resents his forced single-parenthood. And although not completely adjusted to his wife's globe-trotting absence, he hits on the fragile April immediately. A coarse yet mildly entertaining Colin Firth, in a sketchily drawn role, is a refreshing change from his Austen-esque, proper romantic leads. Firth seems stolid, but is not helped by such dialogue as "I love talking to you; you move me." Ugh
Along with a host of brilliant cameos, Matthew Broderick is marvelous as April's bland yet somewhat sleazy husband, and Ben Shenkman is superb as April's supportive younger brother.
Powerful yet engaging thanks to the achingly real uncertainty, this simple story shimmers with the constant redefinition of family, and the solace of love lost and then found in the most unexpected places.