“I mean it’s not gonna get any worse than this,” April Epner (Helen Hunt) explains after her husband Ben (Matthew Broderick) tells his wife that he’s made a mistake and doesn’t want this married life any longer when she learns that he’s resigned from his post teaching across the hall. Surely audiences, used to beginnings of films where spouses or lovers leave, laugh knowingly in recognition that yes, this must be the worst of it. However this first heartbreak comprises just the beginning of Helen Hunt’s directorial debut co-written by the actress from a novel by Elinor Lipman, which finds April thrown for yet another loop when her mother dies shortly after Ben’s announcement in the achingly real, bittersweet yet surprisingly humorous Then She Found Me.
I say humorous because while those two overwhelmingly depressing events would have led to the end of most stories or in real life would no doubt have caused an individual to withdraw from the world for awhile to cope with their grief, instead for April, they provide the impetus for another surprising revelation that comes in the form of a legal representative who informs April that her adopted mother wants to arrange a meeting. When the devoutly Jewish April meets spunky talk show host Bernice Graves (a pitch perfect Bette Midler), the two women couldn’t be more different yet it's precisely the meeting of these opposites that provides just the right opportunity for growth for each as they learn more about themselves and what they really want out of life as April, longing to be a mother, must contend with her own feelings of maternal abandonment in her quest to conceive a child.
While normally it would have been easy for the men to be lost in the process of this admittedly female-centric work, again we’re treated to a delightful surprise by way of the thinking woman’s sexiest man alive, Colin Firth, who stars as the bitterly divorced father of two who writes book jackets in his car in the school parking lot so that he can be nearer to his kids. Firth’s Frank who takes a liking to April nearly form the start as she accuses him of coming on to her just nine hours after Ben leaves, (which he may very well have been doing), offers April both affection and the family she’s always longed for as she tries to deal with both Bernice and her separation from Ben.
Never allowing itself to be pigeonholed by genre conventions and refreshingly shot with a naturalistic close-up heavy style to heighten its intimacy, Then She Found Me, which played at the Toronto International Film Festival before getting picked up by Think Film and Blue Rider Pictures is building up momentum around the festival circuit where it earned the 2008 Audience Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival as well as a richly deserved Breakthrough Director of the Year honor for Hunt at ShoWest.
One of my favorite features from the eighth annual Phoenix Film Festival that should strike a chord with audiences who sought out last year’s Waitress, Then She Found Me is further proof that it takes a woman to produce intelligent, emotionally satisfying, and mature fare for women who have been long ignored by our recent overreliance on testosterone fueled tragedies.