Then She Found Me, a comedy based on Elinor Lipman’s very funny book about a birthmother who finds her adult daughter, will be released on DVD September 2. When I reunited with my daughter I read everything I could find about birthmother/adoptee reunions, but I shied away from this novel for several years because I was in the camp that thought search and reunion should be the adoptee’s choice/right. I laughed and cried my way through the book when I finally read it. Lipman captured the reunion dynamic perfectly, and some of the dialog was eerily familiar; my daughter and I said some of the same things to each other.
About two years ago I learned Helen Hunt would direct and star in the movie I couldn’t wait to see it. Bette Midler was cast as Bernice, perfect as the in-your-face talk show host birthmother from, well, if not hell, certainly not heaven.
I finally saw the movie when it was released in May and I was terribly disappointed. (Spoiler alert: I discuss the movie and reveal the ending.) It was a small film, full of clichés. The book was all about the mother/daughter roller coaster relationship, which sadly took a back seat in the film. Hunt plays April, a teacher who is an insult to teachers everywhere--very drab and dreary. Hunt altered the book by throwing in a “gotta have a baby NOW” plot. Lorraine disagreed with me here; she “[liked] the emphasis on I WANT MY OWN BABY. I would have made her say: I want to see someone who looks like me....” While coping with baby fever, she's also dealing with her terminally ill (adoptive) mother. There's an unrealistic scene (at least to me, you're dying, this is what's foremost on your mind?) where April's mother is lying in her hospital bed with enough strength left to insist that there's no difference between a biological and adopted child, a mother loves them both the same (uh-huh). And she even tells her distraught daughter to adopt! April subsequently becomes pregnant by her husband who has walked out on her, and loses the baby in the first trimester
Bette/Bernice has kept tabs on her daughter’s life the way most birthmothers do--guesswork, a few crumbs here and there. She tells her daughter her father was Steve McQueen (altered from JFK in the book); the “sperm donor” was a neighborhood mensch, less than stellar, so Bette embellishes. She tells Hunt she was with her three days in the hospital, and then had to let her go, but April/Hunt later learns that wasn’t the case and she’s stunned by the revelation—her birthmother lied to her! And then the movie goes steadily downhill. The two argue. “You gave me away!” screams April. (Ouch!) Bernice is forced to admit she wanted to have a life rather than have her father ignore her, ignore her child. Lorraine shared this with me after she saw the film: “...It was painful for [me] to make Bette/Bernice say that, I gave you up because I wanted a life--Christ she was 15 and alone...and got no help from anyone, and so that seemed unusually cruel, but how they feel, I suppose. The adoptive saints were there.”
Bernice starts parking in front of her daughter’s house; the birthmother as stalker. April’s brother, their mother’s biological son, suggests that Bernice buy something extravagant for April to make up for all of “this.” That something extravagant is in vitro fertilization treatment. (The most extravagant gift I gave my daughter was a Tiffany bracelet.)
Cut to a few years later. We’re at Helen/April’s beau’s house (Colin Firth, who can do no wrong in my book). Helen asks his kids, “Where’s your father?” They point around the corner of the house. Helen goes to him; he’s gazing at something off camera. He leaves the frame, then Helen’s sitting alone, looking stoned. She’s looking at a little girl…her little girl, three, perhaps four. When the child turns around, I groaned out loud. April adopted a Chinese girl. Lorraine astutely noted, “It had to end with an adoption.... how tidy. How nice to make everybody feel ... good about adoption”
I walked out of the theater angry that I plunked down $10.25 for dreck.
I guess I was so annoyed because the movie was released shortly after Juno, and we all know what a great job that movie did for promoting adoption. Hollywood overall has done a terrible job of portraying out of wedlock pregnancies and single motherhood in film (Losing Isaiah, Knocked Up, and the dreadful Baby Mama come to mind). Yet the Hollywood/celebrity community doesn’t blink when unmarried actresses have children (biological or adopted) without marriage or even a father for their child (Angelina Jolie, Mary Louise Parker, Diane Keaton, an adoptive mother who was originally cast in the role of Bernice, Sheryl Crow, Calista Flockhart, Meg Ryan…feel free to add to the list).
Last Saturday night I was watching the 11 o’clock news and saw a commercial for a late night movie, The Last Trimester. Thankfully this made-for-TV movie barely saw the light of day, based on this anonymous synopsis from the IMDB web site: A young married couple, Eric and Tracy Smythe, are thrilled when they adopt a baby, only to have it taken away from them when the mother turns out to be married. At a complete loss, and in debt from in vitro, they are desperate to complete their family. When Eric comes home with what seems to be the perfect solution, a young woman who is pregnant and does not want the baby, their dream of family seems to be coming true...but the dream is about to become a nightmare.
So, birthmothers are as evil and deranged as Alex Forrest (the classic role played by Glenn Close) in Fatal Attraction?
This post has me thinking about birthmother/adoptee relationships in movies; surprisingly, there are a few, some of them quite good. I’ll post my favorites here in a day or two. Meanwhile, if you’ve read or watched Then She Found Me, did you feel as Lorraine and I did? Or did you take away something else?
Here are some reviews for the movie from critics who aren't birthmothers: