Yeah, I didn’t get this movie. I went to see it because I heard it was Helen Hunt’s first turn at feature directing. Ever since a class in grad school on women directors, I always keep an eye out for women trying to break this particularly thick glass ceiling. Hunt seemed to me as coldly focussed enough to pull it off.
Oh well. The first problem here was the source material. I got the sense that the novel the movie is based on was one of those navel-gazing post-modern deals full of internal angst and vacuous kitchen table conversations, but not a lot to really say or see. That is, it may be a middlin novel, but it sucks as source material for a movie.
The “story” here (yeah, I meant those scare quotes) revolves around the desires of April, a 39 year old woman, played by Hunt, to have a child. She was adopted by a Jewish family as a baby, and has always felt that her bond with her adopted family was not the same as her brother’s who was born into the family. The movie opens up as April’s marriage to a man-child played well by Matthew Broderick is falling apart. Broderick walks out of the marriage leaving April to deal with her adopted mother’s death a few days later. Then, April’s birth mother, played by the great Bette Midler, upends April’s firm grip on her own narcissism, and storms into her life. Then, a handsome, way too good to be true single father, played by Colin Firth, throws himself relentlessly at Hunt, while the movie flails towards the 100 minute mark and surrenders to being much ado about ultimately very little.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time critiquing this slight project’s flaws. It is what it is. I would say that Bette Midler is always fun and manages to produce the only laughs here, but even she can’t lift this plodding, uncertain piece into any kind of lasting goodness. I read one reviewer who called Hunt’s efforts as a director here “spectacularly unprodigious.” I agree. There doesn’t seem to be any aesthetic directoral vision in Then She Found Me. No style at all really. And because Helen Hunt is in every scene, it is hard to give Hunt props for directing the actors. It feels more like the thing is one big vehicle for Hunt to dabble in moviemaking as co-writer, director and star.
And I guess I have to note that Hunt really shouldn’t have cast herself in the lead. She looks very pulled tight and unhappy, and just too old and hardened to play a frail 39 year old. She spends most of the movie looking pained and exhausted. I wouldn’t say it except that all through the movie characters keep telling her how beautiful she is. It reminded me of a Barbara Streisand film in that way. Or one of those movies where a character in a movie tells a joke and all the other characters on screen laugh at it, but the audience just stares because it isn’t really funny.
What I think is much more interesting is the stuff of the A-story – namely, the all-consuming desire of the main character to have a baby. There are actually two movies out there right now with this as topic – the other being the Tina Fey comedy Baby Mama. So, what is going on here?
Over-stuffed America is now a world in which babies are the ultimate accessory. You get one desperately after you’ve done it all, in a kind of superstitious way that maybe you would be missing out on something big if you don’t have one. It’s the other side of the abortion mentality in which one’s own tiny fundamentally needy offspring is saddled with the burden of having to provide two adults lots of fun and fulfillment besides. The tyranny of biology is what these movies are basically about – in which the body’s aging is the dark shadow spoiling everything. How dare the laws of matter interfere with me having it all? Doesn’t the cosmos know who I am?!
From one standpoint, these movies are a positive acceptance that motherhood may actually bring unique joys and personal meaning. This beats the hell out of the weird Boomer feminists hatred of their own fertility. But the sense in these movies of needing and wanting a child apart from needing and wanting a husband and marriage reveals the fear and selfishness which guts what might be considered positive in these character’s motivations. A previous generation aborted babies under the banner of “Me! ME! ME!” Now, this generation is pulling ever bioethical magic trick to have babies, but still under the banner “Me! ME! Me!”
As John Paul II once pointed out (paraphrase), “We owe secular artists a debt of gratitude for very often showing us with power what the world without God looks like.”
COTM recommends audiences lose Then She Found Me. Pass.