The directing debut of Helen Hunt gets a passing grade, barely -- the story she's telling is as old as the hills, but Then She Found Me is still executed with style. Sometimes charming, occasionally funny, it never draws attention to itself as the work of a director with training wheels on. The film follows the journey of April Epner (Helen Hunt) a 39 year-old woman who is inexplicably marrying a man named Ben (Matthew Broderick) who is so inconsiderate and self-absorbed that no woman could find him to be primo marriage material. Just as they begin to realize their mistake, April gets the shock of a lifetime: her birth mother shows up and informs her that her real father was Steve McQueen. I kind of liked that premise and hoped the movie would go with it, but it turns out to be just a gag. April's mother, played well by Bette Midler, has a couple of screws loose. More to the point, she has a couple of screws loose when it's convenient, and provides sage and sound advice at other times.

Colin Firth co-stars as April's love interest, an emotionally volatile man with a kid who happens to be in the same school where April teaches, which leads to the kind of scene where the teacher is red-faced by having the kid notice that she is having a 'sleep over' with the father. Firth's character, Frank, tries hard to start up a relationship with April and aggressively pushes her onto his kids, but naturally he isn't very understanding of the fact that she's still seeing her almost-husband on the side, here and there. Usually, a romantic comedy of this type would set up the love triangle but make it more or less clear from the start who is going to win out and who isn't, so Then She Found Me deserves some credit for going a more complicated route and portraying all of these characters as seriously flawed. Frank, for instance, is prone to yelling and storming around in an absolute rage, which is never a good sign. Ben is worse, having nothing whatsoever going on in his life.

Perhaps the biggest running theme of Then She Found Me is adoption, but the film skirts around any actual debate on the merits and demerits of the practice. Something about the fact that April herself was adopted has created in her a great antipathy to the idea of adopting in general, but most of the film's conversations play out like this: 'Why don't you just adopt?' I'm not adopting a baby from China !' There's not much more depth to the discussions than that, which is a shame – adoption is an issue that's not exactly over-discussed these days. The film is also on shaky ground when it continually repeats the same set-up over and over: April's wacko of a birth mother does something horrible and then begs for forgiveness and April forgives her. Would you really forgive someone who told you lies on the level of: your father is Steve McQueen? On the other hand, Helen Hunt is good at playing the wounded or betrayed woman, and she understandably gives herself several opportunities to shine in this performance.

Whether or not you enjoy Then She Found Me will simply depend on whether you're in the market for an acceptable romantic dramedy at the moment, and whether you're a Helen Hunt fan. There's nothing really more earth-shattering than that going on, although Hunt has shown enough proficiency with her first film that I'd certainly be open to seeing more stuff by her in the future. She certainly knows how to handle the basics of moviemaking and how to put an intriguing cast together -- apart from scoring Bette Midler and Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick, she also got Salman Rushdie to appear in this thing, if you can believe that. Rushdie plays a doctor who performs sonograms on April a couple of times throughout the film. There were no press notes available for this picture, so there wasn't an opportunity to get an explanation for why Rushdie makes this rare apperance. Maybe he's a big fan of Mad About You, and owns the entire series on DVD and watches it on rainy afternoons. Who knows?


There will be a public TIFF screening of Then She Found Me on Saturday, September 15th at 11:45am.