MOVIE REVIEW- Hunt's no find: Helen's unpromising directorial debut

a still from this week's filmIn April Epner's (Helen Hunt) 40th year, a lot of things change. Her husband, Benjamin (Matthew Broderick), leaves her, just when she's obsessing about trying to have a baby. Her adoptive mother (Lynn Cohen), who's been encouraging her to adopt a child, passes away. But God– or whoever– sends candidates to replace both of them.

Steve WarrenAt the school where April and Benjamin taught– until he left his job too– she meets Frank (Colin Firth), the father of one of her students, who's also recently abandoned; and there's at least enough of a spark for a double-rebound affair, maybe more. Then a strange man (John Benjamin Hickey) gives her a letter from a local TV personality, Bernice Graves (Bette Midler), who claims to be April's birth mother.

As if that's not enough change, April gets pregnant, and Benjamin misses her after three weeks and wants to come back into her life, though maybe not all the way back: he's happy living with his mother.

Each relationship has its pluses and minuses. Bernice is rich and seems sincere about wanting to get to know her daughter, but she tells so many lies April's afraid to believe anything she says. Benjamin is sweet but refuses to grow up. (Broderick, who still looks 12 years old– on him middle-aged bloat reads like baby fat– is perfect casting.) Frank seems like a great match for April, but he's moody, and that whole rebound thing can be dangerous.

Then She Found Me, Hunt's feature directorial debut, is a dramedy, or what used to be called a comedy-drama. People who make them often explain the mix of moods as "messy, just like life." Well, "messy" is a good word for Then She Found Me, not just for the mood swings but for everything from Hunt's hair (her total lack of vanity is admirable; no other director would have dared to let her look so drab) to details (Bernice tells April, who was born April 1, 1967, she was conceived on a cold night– in July?– during a drive-in showing of Bullitt, which wasn't released until October 1968).

Poor Bette Midler has to be manic depressive, bouncing between her sincere, overwhelmingly maternal Stella mode and funny moments when her old campy self shines through, seemingly reaching out to her gay fan base in the midst of this heterosexual story.

Hunt has lighter moments too, but she's more often overly intense. Another director would have told her when to bring it down a notch. Only David Mansfield's music matches her intensity– and there's too much of it, too loud.

Hunt doesn't show much promise as a director, especially while playing the lead at the same time. She favors old-fashioned camera work, a lot of long, static shots with a minimum of closeups. It doesn't bode well for when the film reaches video, where it will have its widest audience on its narrowest screens.

Adapted by Hunt and two others from Elinor Lipman's novel of the same name, Then She Found Me has many enjoyable moments, enough to offset the flat ones and a few painfully bad ones. So much of the content is aimed at gays and Jews, you'd think it was meant to be a Broadway show, one produced by the Lifetime Channel.