Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Let Me Just Say "Ouch"

There are at least three actresses who should never play Jewish: Candace Bergen, Helen Hunt, and Jody Foster. They are all good-to-great actresses, but they have such patrician, Wasp-y features, I just don’t think they can pull it off. (Yes, I do know there are Jews in Scandinavia.) So I was surprised to see Helen Hunt not only play Jewish, but very Jewish, in “Then She Found Me.” Let me just say, OUCH.

Hunt took a funny, charming book and turned it into a painful, slow, angst-filled movie. Her character is a late-married school teacher. In a very brief time span, she marries, loses her adoptive mother, is left by her husband, falls hard for a dysfunctional divorced dad, and is then "discovered" by her birth mother. I was mystified by the choice of Salman Rushdie as the ob/gyn. Was it a "cameo?" Was it supposed to be funny? Colin Firth is an erudite, sophisticated actor; making him look like an unmade bed throughout the film was a little silly. We get it, he's troubled.

Only Bette Midler’s performance as the birth mother saved this from being a total stink bomb. But in the book, her character was a loud, brassy, larger-than-life talk show host who was completely oblivious to the massive impact her wake has on those around her (from whence much of the funniness came); in the film, Bette had it turned way, way down.

Every other review I read agreed that Hunt's painful thinness was distracting. The former Pretty Blond looks like five miles of bad road. When your skull shows through your face, it’s time to eat a sandwich, girl. It’s a petty thing to pick on, but in every scene, her cadaverous figure was emphasized by either a deep v-neck dress or a tiny tank top – which also didn’t jive with the character’s supposed religiousness. And here's a little tip for future efforts: the score also affects with whether a scene reads as comedy or not. For a comedy, the whole movie had a pretty somber score.

I’m probably taking this hard because for years, Elinor Lipman has been one of my favorite authors. Her books are funny. (This was her first novel.) Charming, quirky, addictive and funny. Although the script strays a lot from the book, I read somewhere that Ms. Lipman has only nice things to say about the movie. In fact, here’s a quote: The book is the book and the movie is its own entity. This I internalized early on when a wise friend told me, "Think of it as a movie based on characters suggested by the novel." I do.

Well, whaddya think she’s going to say? Especially if she ever wants another shot at seeing one of her books turned into a movie?

Sandra Bullock, Jeanene Garafolo, Natalie Portman (an actual Jew!)... I can come up with a half-dozen actresses who could have saved this film and also made it an actual comedy. Helen, work on getting back that comedic timing (you had it in "Mad About You,"), stay on this side of the camera for awhile, and for dog's sake, eat something.
It’s Not Just Me:
Mirror.UK - review
Total Film - review
Daily Mail - Helen Hunt’s Heavy Hand Kills Comedy

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