Helen Hunt’s directorial debut begins as a probing drama, a tone captured by the likes of Raymond Carver and Andre Dubus and brought to the screen by devout filmmakers. A barren April Epner (played by the director) pines to have a child. Her adoptive mother tells her, outright, that rejecting adoption at this point is foolish. When April’s husband, Ben (Matthew Broderick), has a shallowly sensitive break-up talk with her, things go even more somber.
But the tone goes for a volley and falls flat in the sand. Soon April is reunited with her birth mother, a “View”-like talk show host, Bernice (Bette Midler). Family drama gets a dose of high concept, and comedy wants to take over. Now we sit within a tonal tug-of-war: “Found” wants to investigate the emotional complexities of April, but also desires the comic sensationalism of a famous-mother-found story. Midler is reliable – she makes many moments into goofy diversion. Once again, she proves that humor is all in the delivery, especially with this drab material. (And she will raise eyebrows when the 60-plus actor enters in underwear bottoms-down, proving that age can’t kill this babe.) Though even a comedienne like Midler can’t suffer through these mother-daughter estrangement scenes. They register as plot filler, developing nothing and halting the rhythm of an already choppy film.
When Midler doesn’t take over, Hunt makes a hard effort to develop her character. A sharp featured actor, Hunt physically suits the role but seems uncomfortable in the spotlight, as if not used to all the screen time. In her many solo scenes, she tries to channel insecurity, though we sense the performer’s unease drowning other facial emotions. Any director – besides Hunt, I guess – could see that this film has too many solo moments for such a limited performer. And it’s no help that the script, based on an Elinor Lipman novel, sounds like it would prefer to stay on the page (like the 2004 Dubus adaptation “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” which also felt more like a reading than a viewing experience).
April soon meets Frank (Colin Firth), a prickly but eligible Brit. This couple promises complexity at first, since he’s as controlling as he is endearing, but the script moves their relationship too fast and conveniently, and never takes any risks with it. (Also, many of Firth’s lines sound like they were pulled from a book of light verse. A few times it seems as if the actor can barely manage to recite them.) Overall, any risks that “Found” takes are nipped before tension registers. One near the end results in a folly of a plot turn, and even then things are resolved for April before drama develops. Overall, the film is lost and never found. In her first shot as director, Hunt seems direction-less.