Helen Hunt makes a spectacularly inauspicious directorial debut with Then She Found Me, a gray little independent film that not even the brassy presence of Bette Midler can enliven. A little Midler generally goes a long way, but the film could benefit from more of the showbiz institution's trademark sass. With Midler missing in action much of the time, the film drowns in a sea of thudding earnestness.
Adapted from Elinor Lipman's novel, Then She Found Me casts Hunt as a childless schoolteacher nervously staring down menopause. When her weak-willed husband Matthew Broderick leaves her and her adoptive mother dies, Hunt is thrown into a state of depression and confusion exacerbated by the sudden appearance of her long-absent biological mother Bette Midler, a local television celebrity and legend in her own mind who gave Hunt up for adoption decades earlier, under circumstances that somehow get cloudier the more she tries to explain them. While struggling to cope with a series of unfortunate events, Hunt becomes romantically entangled with Colin Firth, a single father seemingly too good to be true.
That plot description may make the film sound like the cinematic answer to chick-lit, but it plays with the trembling sincerity of middling arthouse fare. Firth is typecast once again as the noble male love interest, but he is, thankfully, afforded one great speech where his façade of bottomless patience and kindness dissipates, and he gives into the rage percolating just under the surface. Broderick, meanwhile, is convincing as a pathetic man-child desperately trying to recapture his lost youth, but woefully unconvincing as a man Hunt inexplicably finds sexually irresistible. Hunt co-wrote, produced, and directed this film and gives herself a juicy lead role (something sorely lacking for women above the age of 30), which makes it all the more frustrating and perplexing that she and the lethargic, momentum-free film she shakily carries make so little impression. The anxieties and angst of middle-class, middle-aged women remain rich, underexplored cinematic territory, but Hunt's instantly forgettable film does little to make this deep vein of cultural experience seem vital or exciting.