In her debut as both star and director, Helen Hunt is something of a party-pooper.
In the course of just 15 minutes, April, an uptight, 39-year-old teacher, sees it all. Her husband (Matthew Broderick) confesses to cheating and leaves. She finds out she's pregnant. Her adoptive mother dies. She meets a rumpled, but no less sexy, single dad named Frank (Colin Firth), the man of her dreams. And she receives a letter from her birth mother, a flamboyant talk-show host named Bernice Graves (Bette Midler). Whew.
Based on Elinor Lipman's novel of the same name, "Then She Found Me" is certainly action-packed in the emoting, chick-flick sense. Abandonment begets abandonment; April's polar-opposite birth mother appears just as her former relationships crumble. But as mother and daughter take an introductory stroll, the ensuing personality clash is written all over their footwear: mother in shiny pumps, daughter in drab Birkenstocks.
The film's greatest virtue: It doesn't further the Hollywood fantasy of perfection. Nor is it another feel-good yarn about surmounting hardship. Rather, a cast of unheroic characters deals with its troubles in more reflexive, human ways. Bernice is a fibber. Frank's prone to outbursts. April has an irritable air.
For the most part, however, this endeavor at realism is not particularly artful. In fact, the moral of the story is delivered in the unsubtle manner of a sermon. People aren't perfect; loved ones will fail us time and again: So goes the heavy-handed lesson from Helen Hunt, who plays a most imperfect April in this, her directorial debut.
If 90 percent of directing is casting, as the saying goes, then Hunt wants to best that statistic. From the looks of things, the actors were simply let loose as themselves. Midler rubber-stamps her fabulousness with a warm, demonstrative presence. Firth's Frank is an intense, attentive bachelor with an eerie penchant for maintaining eye contact, borrowing from his Mr. Darcy of both "Bridget Jones' Diary" and "Pride and Prejudice."
As for Hunt's acting, she, too, sticks by her shtick. Hers is a sulking April, lovely in her physical stillness but, even so, a devoted party-pooper, a stiff. The brow is fixed in a furrow, the thin voice in a shrill. She hurls complaints at her loved ones. An Excedrin-packing viewer can hardly stand this woman, let alone the preachy obviousness she wields.