Saturday, May 3, 2008

Helen Hunt reappears with new film

*** out of ****

Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt seemingly has fallen off the movie map since 2000's "Cast Away" and "What Women Want." Hunt makes her comeback not only as an actress, but as a first-time feature film producer, writer and director with "Then She Found Me"

The film stars Hunt as April Epner, a New York schoolteacher who goes into a mid-life crisis after multiple hits of fate.

The first is her inability to conceive a child naturally with her biological clock ticking. The second hit catches April off guard when her husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick), who works at the same school, unexpectedly leaves her. The third hit is her adoptive mother, Trudy (Lynn Cohen), passes away and, if that isn't enough, April's birth mother, Bernice (Bette Midler), decides to re-enter April's life. Then, a gentlemanly Brit named, Frank (Colin Firth), a father of one of April's students, unexpectedly enters her life.

Well directed, the movie has both April and the audience feeling overwhelmed with all of this happening and on board for a charming ride.

April has a hard time believing the bouncy Bernice, a semi-famous morning talk show host, is her mother, a woman who never is entirely honest about the story of April's adoption and her birth father.

When April finally settles in with the idea of Bernice being her mother and her newfound romance with Frank, a new problem arises: April finds out she is finally pregnant, but with Ben's baby. Ben, trying to come back into the picture as the father, brings complications to her romance with Frank.

Sorting through life with the help of each of these characters and her non-adopted brother Freddy (Ben Shenkman), "Then She Found Me" is a realistic look into making the best of what life gives you, even if it appears to be the worst.

"Then She Found Me" boasts a fabulous cast of actors who rarely are seen in films anymore, including Bette Midler, whose last appearance was in the underwhelming 2004 remake "The Stepford Wives."

Colin Firth ("Bridget Jones's Diary") is fine as the single father Frank, but the role isn't much of a stretch from his previous work. Matthew Broderick gives a rare dramatic performance as April's husband, who is finally ready to accept responsibility. Two-time Oscar nominee Midler fits her role like a glove as the over-the-top Bernice, who generates the film's biggest laughs.

Hunt marvels as April in a difficult role that reconfirms her status as an Oscar-winning actress. As a director and writer she pulls it off. Starting as a comedy, the film is a little rocky, but the fairly smooth transition into drama is where it excels.

The brave screenplay doesn't feel like a studio product, like most films of its genre today. The movie provides a content down-to-earth ending that caps off a satisfying journey. One of the better movies of its class in a long time, "Then She Found Me" truly is a find.

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