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100 Minutes of Ego

If you've ever wanted to see Salman Rushdie playing a gynecologist, then consider seeing 'Then She Found Me'

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You know that feeling you get when you push your head through a cheese grater? Were I an ungenerous person, I would say that feeling is comparable to watching Then She Found Me, an ego-pic by Helen Hunt.

Hunt directs and stars as April Epner, a woman who, despite appearances to the contrary, is only 39 years old. The story is basically a sadder version of The Little Match Girl, with fewer laughs: April is trying to get pregnant when her irresponsible husband (Matthew Broderick, who looks like he could be her irresponsible nephew) decides to leave her. The next day, her mother dies, and then her birth mother (Bette Midler) suddenly appears, and then a Reasonably Attractive Man (Colin Firth) falls in love with her and can't stop telling her how beautiful she is, which is strange, because the man is English, and the English are known for their excellent eyesight.

Then April finds out she's pregnant, and lots more plot occurs, but April never stops frowning. I think Helen Hunt just picked a facial expression and decided she'd stick with it. It's sort of odd to see and hear someone say, in the same tone of voice and with the same expression, "My mother died," "I love you," "I'm pregnant," and "I'd like the soup, please." It's really a bafflingly awful performance of the sort that used to capture Academy Awards, back when the Academy Award for Best Actress went to Most Comically Overwrought Performance and not Youngest, Cutest or Foreignest Actress.

Anyway, April's super-sad and frowny life just gets more and more complicated as she's pregnant with her husband's child, but is in love with the Reasonably Attractive Man. Meanwhile, her birth mother, Bernice, keeps lying to her about who her real father is, when she was given up for adoption, and whether or not it's a good idea to direct yourself in a film when you're so blatantly in love with yourself that you cast yourself as a woman who has two men in love with her and who keep telling her how pretty she is.

Throughout, manipulative music plays, so in case you thought the scene you were seeing was neither deep nor sad nor important, the music comes in to tell you that, yes, it's deep and sad. Oh, and also important.

It's mostly open-hand guitar mixed with violins, or, as the French call it, "la musique de merde." There's also that song by Iron and Wine that's now in every lame manipulative emo-film. I think it's "Naked as We Came," but all the Iron and Wine stuff sounds the same to me. It was in Garden State, another horribly overwrought ego-pic, that one by Zach Braff. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Then She Found Me is exactly the kind of film that Zach Braff will make when he's a 40-year-old woman.

It's so self-absorbed that it's basically like watching Helen Hunt stare into a mirror and sadly chant, "I'm so pretty. Oh so pretty. And such a good actress. Oh. Oh. Oh." Which is nice, and I'm glad she likes herself so much, but it's not easy to sit through.

The weirdest thing about Then She Found Me, though, is that it tries to be more than just a moving drama about the special sadness that only Helen Hunt can emote; it's also supposed to be a comedy. Which you get, because people say things that have the general form of jokes, and Bette Midler flounces around like she's still friends with Goldie Hawn. But there are literally no laughs in the film, though it is a sort of interesting effect to watch a joke fire off as April Epner frowns in a manner deeply expressive of the excellent sadness that can only come from being played by Helen Hunt. I imagine that even if the jokes were funny, they'd have a hard time struggling to the surface of that bottomless lake of terror.

I'd like to say something nice about the film, and since I can't say it about the directing, which is pedestrian; the writing, which is romance-novel shallow and Oprah Winfrey self-important; or the music, which is painfully sincere; I'll note that there are actually a couple of good performances in this movie. Colin Firth, who's usually excellent, plays April's boyfriend. Sadly, he's awful. But his material is terrible, so I won't blame him. But Matthew Broderick, as April's husband, is at least as good as he always is, playing the character he always does. Same for Bette Midler: If you find her insufferable, she'll fulfill your expectations here, but those who enjoyed her in Beaches will no doubt be satisfied with her work. But there's actually a very decent performance from Ben Shenkman as April's brother Freddy; and a strange turn by international literary celebrity Salman Rushdie as April's gynecologist, while hardly prize-worthy, is at least a weird enough bit of casting to create a moment's release from the painful tedium of the film.

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