by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved
The film was Then She Found Me, presented last Saturday (April 18) by Lifetime as an original TV-movie but apparently made in 2007 with the hope of feature-film distribution, which explains how the movie had a pretty starry cast list, at least by Lifetime standards: Helen Hunt, Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth and Bette Midler. Hunt not only starred in the movie but also directed it and co-wrote the script with Alice Arlen and Victor Levin, based on a novel by Elinor Lipman, though the script was such a rag-bag of soap-opera clichés that it had the air of being especially made for Lifetime even if it wasn’t (it was originally picked up for theatrical distribution by the ThinkFilm company but ThinkFilm just went out of business and that’s probably why it ended up on Lifetime).
Let’s see if I can remember all the details of this convoluted plot: April Epner Green (Helen Hunt) is a 39-year-old schoolteacher who’s in a rather ennui-driven marriage to one of her co-workers, Ben Green (Matthew Broderick), and being 39 she’s desperate for a baby since she can hear the biological clock ticking. She flatly rejects the option of adopting a child because she was adopted herself; her adoptive father died three years before the movie begins and her adoptive mother, Trudy (Lynn Cohen), is on her deathbed when our story begins. Trudy is actually urging April to adopt, but April is reluctant because she’s spent her lifetime being aware of the subtle difference between the way she was treated and the way the elder Epners treated her two siblings, who were their own blood children.
Just after Mrs. Epner croaks, April gets a double whammy: her husband informs her matter-of-factly that he wants out of the marriage and a woman named Bernice Graves (Bette Midler) slams her way into April’s life and claims to be her biological mother. Bernice hosts a Barbara Walters-esque morning talk show and gets semi-star names like Tim Robbins, Janeanne Garofalo and Edie Falco (who appear here as themselves) to appear on it, and to get to know April she takes her to lunch at a ridiculously ritzy restaurant called Barbetta (which apparently really exists), whose hosts make it a point to address their guests in Italian whether they can understand it or not. Bernice tells April that her birth father is Steve McQueen — and April buys it long enough to rent a copy of the McQueen version of The Getaway before a friend points out that during the time she would have had to be conceived McQueen was out of the U.S. making The Sand Pebbles, and later April finds out that her real father was a young Ukranian boy Bernice had an affair with — and still later she finds out that Bernice put her up for adoption when she was already a year old, not just three days as Bernice had told April earlier, because she didn’t want the encumbrance to her budding TV career that single motherhood would have posed.
Meanwhile, April has started dating another co-worker, Frank (Colin Firth) — doesn’t this woman ever meet anybody else? — and things are going along pretty well in this relationship even though Frank is raising two kids of his own from a previous wife who walked out on him as casually and coldly as Ben walked out on April — only Ben comes back for one quickie session of attempted make-up sex in a parked car and that gets April knocked up at long last. Both Frank and Ben show up at the pre-natal screenings — confusing the hell out of the doctors — and at six weeks everything is fine, but at 10 weeks April’s baby’s heart stops beating and April realizes that once again she’s missed out on the thrill of bearing and raising her own blood child. So she uses a nice bit of emotional blackmail that shows that, even though Bernice was Catholic, April has learned something from growing up in a Jewish family (the film features snatches of traditional Hebrew songs just to establish the Epners’ “Jewicity”): she forces Bernice to pick up the tab for fertility treatments and the two of them go through catalogs to select a sperm donor for April.
The film ends somewhat inconclusively — I think we’re supposed to presume that April and Frank get together and raise the child she’s going to have from donor 29X or whatever his number was in the catalog — and Hunt proves a competent but not especially inspired director, getting reasonably good performances from her actors within the limits of the script but bathing the whole movie in a warm autumnal glow rather than daring to show any other parts of the spectrum than dirty greens and browns (a common failing I find in today’s movies — if you’re going to use so little of the visible spectrum, why not just shoot in black-and-white?). Then She Found Me is obviously aiming at some profound statement about life and the human condition, but the result is so mind-numbingly banal one regrets that an actress of Helen Hunt’s obvious intelligence and skill turned to a silly story like this when she wanted to make an especially personal project.