The alien landscape of a tumultuous midlife

Then She Found Me: 100 minutes. Rated: M. Director: Helen Hunt. Starring: Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick

Then She Found Me When a well-known actor serves as director of a film in which they are also the star, the term 'self-indulgent' readily springs to mind. Doubly so when the director/actor in question is Helen Hunt.

Since winning fame for her seven-year stint in the 1990s US sitcom Mad About You, Hunt, hardly a chameleon, has cruised through a string of movie roles, simply 'playing herself'.

It turns out that 'playing herself' — really a dysphemism for her naturalistic acting style — is a strong feature of her directorial debut. As an actor Hunt has entered middle age gracefully, and allows herself to appear both physically and emotionally haggard in this proudly adult drama about the ticking of the biological clock.

Hunt portrays April Epner, a 40-something, devoutly Jewish teacher enduring a midlife crisis of crushing proportions. A number of factors have converged to send her seemingly on-track life off the rails. Top of the list is the departure of her husband, Ben.

Portrayed by Broderick with a perfect mix of childlike vulnerability and purely adult selfishness, Ben flees the matrimonial home, unable to deal with their failure to produce a much-wanted child. But not without one final, awkward bout of lovemaking — April's desperation to make Ben stay, colliding with his boyish desire to get his rocks off.

The repercussions of this terminal coupling are predictable, although the precise ways in which they will impact upon later events is surprising.

Days later, April's adoptive mother dies. In the midst of April's grief, charismatic talk show host Bernice Grace (Midler, in full-blown comic relief mode) materialises, claiming to be her biological mother and trying to insinuate herself upon April's already complicated world.

As if there weren't enough emotional plates to keep spinning, the recently, painfully single April is starting to fall for Frank (Firth), the father of one of her students, himself an emotional train wreck of a divorcee.

This is an unashamed tearjerker, which treads some emotionally complex terrain, despite its soapie conceits. The real triumph is that it's also very funny — that Hunt finds the capacity for humour as well as heartache demonstrates great insight and compassion for humanity.

Amid the ensemble cast, Firth is a standout, marrying his usual foppish charm to brooding and, at times, literally aggressive grief. From the moment he walks on screen it's clear he's damaged goods — which makes him an equally kindred and destructive partner for the similarly damaged April.

None of the characters is perfect, least of all April, although she tries to manoeuvre the alien landscape of her tumultuous midlife with her dignity intact and her faith still strong. With her longing for motherhood competing with the resonant ticking of the biological clock, you can hardly begrudge her the occasional misstep.

Then She Found Me (official website)

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and ASif. He is a contributor to the inaugural edition of the journal Studies in Australian Weird Fiction. Email Tim



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