The "women's picture" has been considered an endangered species for a while now, but then the same has been said for the "good movie." Tell a friend: Helen Hunt's directorial debut is both: a sterling women's picture for that desperately underserved audience of mature women, and a highly satisfying old-fashioned comedy drama for everyone. Unfortunately, ThinkFilm released this well-acted gem as the blockbuster movie season was kicking off, but hopefully the film's modest returns and a new life on home video will put Hunt back in the driver's seat.
Hunt's labor of love (adapted from Elinor Lipman's novel by Alice Arlen and Victor Levin and Hunt) explores the emotional travails of a 39-year-old woman at a crossroads. Hunt's April Eppner has a longstanding complex about being the adopted child in her Jewish family, despite her dying mother's insistence "There is no difference" (Ben Shenkman acquits himself well as April's brother). April's new marriage to the distressingly inarticulate Ben (Matthew Broderick) quickly implodes, leaving April's burning desire for a child unfulfilled.
On the heels of the loss of her husband and the loss of her mother, April finds a potential new beau (Colin Firth's single dad Frank, only four weeks divorced himself); shortly thereafter, her birth mother Bernice Graves (Bette Midler) shows up out of the blue. The complications only keep on coming, as the wounded April tries to decide if she can place trust in anyone. Happily, Hunt also gives considerable weight to the feelings of Frank and Bernice as they long to be a part of April's life.
The story consistently and pleasingly tips its characters off-balance with major life changes and smaller surprises; the actors clearly relish the juicy material, and the audience likewise benefits from the constant change-ups and irreverent humor. Case in point: Bernice, a talk show host too savvy and hummingbird-swift to be pinned down, claims April's father is Steve McQueen, adding a further wrinkle as April tries to prove or disprove her apparent heritage. In keeping with the plot's unpredictable nature, there's a brief supporting turn by Salman Rushdie as an obstetrician with a twinkle in his eye.
The film's clever title has meanings both romantic and familial, and a strong undercurrent of religion and philosophy helps Hunt make Then She Found Me profound in a way that sneaks up on you. In a very natural, never preachy way, Hunt integrates the characters' tentative but hopeful faith into the story, all around the major theme of accepting betrayal as a constituent element of all relationships, even with God. Only beyond this understanding are enduring love and leaps of faith in other people, oneself, and God.
Image delivers a solid Blu-ray transfer for Then She Found Me, with strong detail, good contrast and black level, and accurate color (it suffers only from a bit of vertical jitter). [Note: Despite what the packaging says, the aspect ratio is 1.85:1 not 1.78:1.] The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track presents the sound to its best advantage. It's a pleasure to see a humble charmer like this one get the deluxe treatment, and Image has also seen fit to include a number of welcomes special features.
First and foremost is a feature length commentary by director-producer-screenwriter-star Helen Hunt. Hunt kicks off the track by expressing her hope that her thoughts may be useful for first-time filmmakers, as she confesses to poring over the commentary tracks of others before directing this debut feature (in particular, she name-checks Anthony Minghella's Truly Madly Deeply track). Hunt explains some of the guiding principles to which she held fast (like James L. Brooks' chestnut that "A bad raincoat can ruin a movie"), finding and refining her aesthetic, secrets of the set decoration, and consulting with a rabbi. She also speaks warmly of her cast and crew, who supported her in her dedicated struggle to make the film, and explains how the themes came into focus around a James Hillman essay on betrayal, which provides the basis for the film's opening narration.
Next up is a Featurette (11:44) with some behind-the-scenes glimpses and interviews with Hunt, Bette Midler, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick, Ben Shenkman, and John Benjamin Hickey. Also included are a different round of Interviews (15:01 with "Play All" option) conducted on a press day: "Helen Hunt" (4:09), "Bette Midler" (3:26), "Colin Firth" (3:59), and "Matthew Broderick" (3:25). They're well worth a look and, like the film, capture a broad range of personalities and moods (from incisive to sheepish).
Lastly, we get the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:33). For those wanting something a bit more substantial than Transformers in their diet, Then She Found Me fits the bill nicely.
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