Someone tells a joke at the beginning of “Then She Found Me” that’s meant to be indicative of Jewish humor: more wry than funny, and with a sharp bit of truth behind it. The joke is about trust issues, and so is the movie, which was directed by Helen Hunt (her first stab at filmmaking) and stars her in the leading role.
Hunt’s character, April Epner, a practicing Jew, has a psyche that teems with trust issues. She was adopted as a baby and has always felt that her parents loved their biological son (Ben Shenkman) more than her. She’s 39 and wants a child of her own, but she and her husband, Benjamin (Matthew Broderick), have been unable to conceive. And now he’s leaving her anyway. And now her adoptive mother dies. And now, just to make life more interesting, her birth mother shows up.
Her name is Bernice Graves. She’s a local Oprah-esque TV personality, though April has never heard of her. She’s played by Bette Midler, which probably tells you everything you need to know about the character: She’s larger than life, she’s overbearing, she’s a little presumptuous. Bernice is eager to insinuate herself in April’s life, yet she’s not exactly forthcoming about the details of April’s conception. (She says April was the product of a one-night stand with Steve McQueen.) Soon enough, though, she relaxes and becomes a genuine friend to her long-lost daughter.
April, a kindergarten teacher, starts dating Frank (Colin Firth), the father of one of her students. If Bette Midler is cast exactly according to type, Colin Firth is nearly the opposite: Frank is disheveled, sleep-deprived, and generally a wreck. Single fatherhood (His wife left him! Aww!) has rattled him, yet Firth’s considerable charm cannot be tamped down. He still gets to say impish things like, in response to April telling him he’s perfect, “I am perfect, by the way, I’m glad you’ve noticed.”
There are further complications in April’s life that pertain to her desire to have a baby; soon, she, Frank, Bernice, and immature ex-hubby Benjamin are wading through all sorts of crises. But don’t worry — it’s nothing too heavy. The film straddles the line between comedy and drama but never gets too bogged down in pathos.
Based on Elinor Lipman’s novel, the story addresses thinky topics like religious faith, motherhood, and adoption, always intelligently and maturely. Starting with that opening joke and continuing throughout the film, there is a certain bittersweet humor to everything, including Hunt’s performance as April. Where the protagonist in a film like this is usually entirely sympathetic, even perfect, April is deeply flawed. She’s controlling and emotionally closed off. One of the film’s themes is that you always hurt the ones you love, and April’s journey involves learning not to do that so much anymore.
Despite the deep and complex issues it addresses, “Then She Found Me” is more lightweight than profound — which isn’t a criticism, necessarily, just an observation that the film doesn’t strike any major, powerful chords. It’s solid, though, particularly as a directorial debut, and its story resonates well enough to make it recommendable.
B (1 hr., 36 min.; )