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Friday, March 27, 2009
'Then She Found Me'
Rom-com falls flat on its Freudisms
By KAORI SHOJI
"Then She Found Me" wants to be a romantic comedy for older chicks (once a chick, always a chick!), but it's strangely dry and brittle and unfunny — a plate of al dente pasta that needed three more minutes on the stove and a dollop of olive oil or some kind of um, lubricant.
Still, many chicks will feel the urge to defend the film, to like it and root for it. This marks the directorial debut of Helen Hunt ("As Good As It Gets," "What Women Want"), who throughout her career has consistently played the put-upon, good-sport gal with typical good-sport acumen. If anyone deserves a break, it's Helen Hunt, and not just a break but a good acupuncturist or masseuse to smooth away that trademark expression of suppressed pain and anxiety.
Hunt has said in interviews that she decided to cast herself in the main role mainly because of budget constraints, but that doesn't stop her from giving herself a lot of extreme close-ups.
She plays April Epner, a 39-year-old elementary-school teacher who's desperate to have a baby before she turns 40. This is the sort of persona Hunt knows how to play, obsessing over self-imposed goals and becoming needlessly stressed in the process. April isn't shrill or unattractive, but her determination to "do something about the biological clock" has had its effect on her whiny newlywed husband Ben (Matthew Broderick). He announces that he feels "uncomfortable" in the relationship, and will therefore leave her to go live with his mother. Instead of setting fire to his thinning hair or some other act of understandable violence, April clenches her teeth and pulls out that put-upon smile. She even agrees to a bout of goodbye sex, which borders on the freakishly masochistic, but then, that's April.
There are a lot of Freudian issues bandied about in "Then She Found Me," but none of them are resolved or satisfactorily explained and many events just seem disconnected. But April remains her enduring, enigmatic self as a veritable storm of melodrama rages all around her: Her adoptive mother dies; her birth mother, Bernice (Bette Midler), who abandoned April when she was 1 year old, suddenly materializes to take charge of her life; a love interest appears in the shape of Frank (Colin Firth), the divorced dad of one of her pupils; and then — ta-da!— she discovers she's pregnant.
April is torn between wanting a relationship ("with a real, adult male!") and wanting to be the kind of committed mom she herself never had, and the dilemma literally drives her up the wall.
"Then She Found Me" often feels like a marketing exercise or a shopping list — the items all pertaining to what late 30s, single women are likely to identify as their issues.
For all that, however, April remains a curiously unsympathetic character: Her smiles are flinty, and often the words come out of her mouth like pellets out of a BB gun. Her husband had a point — it must have been hard to relax or be comfortable around April; but on the other hand, he had done nothing to assuage her pain or recognize her needs. That seems to be the bane of April's life — she's surrounded by people who see her stress but are unwilling to lift a finger to help, including Frank, who's mostly concerned with maintaining his own dignity. Compared to her daughter, Bernice actually comes off as a warm, happy-go-lucky woman, who makes no bones about putting herself first and is endearing for it.
Bernice's presence reminds us that there's more to life than relationships and the biological clock, but sadly, none of it seems to register on April.