This is one of those frequent examples where a film is so drastically different from the book that they are virtually two very separate entities. But what’s unusual is, I’ve enjoyed them both.
Then She Found Me, published in 1990, is written by award winning New England author Elinor Lipman. Helen Hunt, together with Alice Arlen and Victor Levin, wrote the screenplay and turned it into a movie. I can understand why those who have read the book first before seeing the movie are flabbergasted. The only commonality between the book and the film other than the title may just well be the two main characters, the quiet and rational high school Latin teacher April Epner and her birth mother Bernice Graverman, the ostentatious TV talk show host who wants to claim back the daughter she had given up for adoption more than 30 years ago. There are almost no traces of the original story in the movie.
The amusing character contrast in the book is a springboard for some creative channelling for Hunt and her screenwriter team, kudos to Lipman’s original conception of the story idea. Despite its digression from the book, the movie still works and entertains. What more, it has preserved the spirit of the book and has brought to the screen the basic issues the book touches on, the major one being the meaning of motherhood, and the inevitable debate over the value of the birth versus the adoptive mother. For my detailed review of the movie, click here.
The She Found Me is my introduction to Elinor Lipman, the acclaimed author of eight books of fiction and short stories. The book is almost script ready, for it is predominantly dialogues, witty, intelligent, and incisive dialogues. Lipman’s sensitivity and subtle humor effectively bring out the nuances of her characters and their relationships, at times sarcastic, at times genuine, at times poignant.
36 year-old April Epner is a high school Latin teacher, quiet, rational, academic, and single. Her long-sleeved cotton jersey and drop-waist Indian cotton jumper persona hides a kind and genuine soul. The only parents she has known all her life are her adoptive Jewish parents Trude and Julius Epner, Holocaust survivors, who have lovingly brought her up and given her a Radcliffe education. After they have passed away and as she stands in the crossroads of her life, the last thing April needs is to be found by a brassy and impulsive talk show host Bernice Graverman, who claims to be her birth mother. Conscientious April has to match wit with evasive Bernice, with the help of her school librarian Dwight, who happens to be much more than just a supplier of encyclopedic information. Without giving out spoilers, let me just say the story unfolds with sprightly twists and turns, effectively driven by Lipman’s first-rate, cutting and entertaining dialogues.
Those who have seen the movie but have not read the book should move right along to savor the source material. In here you’ll find the intended closure to the seemingly unsolvable conflict and ambivalence. I can see this as a good choice for book/movie discussion in reading groups and book clubs.
As I was reading, I thought I saw Jane Austen cameo. What Lipman has created here is something close to what Austen would have written today: a contemporary comedy of manners, a likable heroine reminiscence of Anne Elliot, an anti-Darcy male character, albeit with similar height and social ineptness, and through the characters and their situations, dares to explore some serious social issues that are masked by very funny, sharp and witty lines. The result is a tasty concoction of humor and heart.
And lo and behold, guess whose portrait I see when I open up Elinor Lipman’s website ?
Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman is published by Washington Square Press, 1990, 307 pages.
~ ~ ~ Ripples