** Warning: Plot spoilers**
Like Juno, the adoption theme of "Then She Found Me" had nothing to do with the moral complexities about pregnancy and adoption which is why, like Juno, it rang false so often. Hunt’s response to the question of what she was saying about adoption through this movie was,
I don’t have much to say about adoption, but I do have something to say
about betrayal, about making peace with betrayal, about how you can’t
really love until you’ve made peace with betrayal. You can’t really
love until you’ve made peace with the fact that life doesn’t happen the
way you want it to happen all the time. That’s really what I want to
say. I don’t have a specific agenda about adoption or the other things
in the movie. They’re just ways to tell a story.
So again, adoption was used as a way to develop a character, not a way to use characters to develop a thoughtful discussion about adoption.
Bette Midler’s character Bernice has a more layered and complex development than April, Hunt’s character. And poor Bernice is portrayed as a lying, manipulative, aggressive birth mother who can’t be trusted. April forces Bernice to admit that she "chose a life over her [April]" – all in all, a morality tale that birth mothers should not go finding the children they surrendered or, in this case, chose to "give up" in order to become wealthy and have a great career.
April, in another of the many scenes in which I found her morally repulsive, also emotionally blackmails Bernice into paying for her IVF treatments for the honor of being part of her life – when April feels like contacting her, that is. Bernice is so desperate for this small nugget that she agrees.
I was incredibly disappointed that for all the lead up, the ending of Hunt’s film offered no explanation of how April resolved the conflict to adopt. In earlier scenes, she had built up adoption as not an option because she wanted "a real baby" (she said this to her adoptive mother, as she lay dying in a hospital room).
April resorts to IVF with donor sperm that Bernice helps her pick out, Tina Fey’s character Kate chooses surrogacy. Which in both cases, there is no discussion of this baby/child who will grow up some day having all kinds of questions about their conception. While not on the radar for a lot of adoptees, there are growing numbers of adults who were conceived with donor sperm who are now also questioning what it means to be part of this complex "solution" to our parent’s dreams of motherhood and fatherhood.
Another gripe – I am getting pretty tired of movies with jokes about Chinese adoption. In Juno it was a
reference to "giving them away like iPods" and "shooting them out of
stadium guns. Here, in "Then She Found Me"
the joke was "Why not adopt a Chinese baby? They’re throwing them in
trash cans." This was uttered by April’s adoptive mother, Bernice and brother. After insisting that she doesn’t want to
adopt a Chinese baby, guess what happens in the end of the movie. Yup.
She adopts a Chinese baby. Guess that’s one less baby in a dumpster.
In both movies as well, there are numerous class issues. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that class plays such a huge role in alternative reproduction and adoption. I’ve known a few adoptive parents who just don’t have the means for international or domestic infant adoption programs. Somehow, they are just supposed to "get over it" or choose to adopt from foster care, which costs little to nothing. While the class issues were perhaps more obvious in "Baby Mama," and "Juno," the portrayal of April as a frumpy, birkenstock-wearing plain Jane to Bernice’s suit-and-stilettoed birth mom makes its own statement about class – which makes me wonder if April emotionally blackmails Bernice into paying the $25,000 for her Chinese adopted daughter.
If there is a theme to "Then She Found Me" and "Baby Mama" (and to a smaller degree, Juno) it is that middle-class, white, control-freak women feel entitled to be mothers, no matter what the emotional or moral cost and will do anything to get what they want even if it means using other people to get it. Yes, I know this is not what all white women who adopt or choose surrogacy do – but this is how Hollywood is portraying it. I would love to see a more thoughtful portrayal of adoption in film, something that does explore the pain of wanting a baby when infertile, the characters wrestling with the moral and ethical complexities of surrogacy and donor sperm and adopting internationally. Using a completely unlikable character like April only adds to my irritation. Had April been more likable, less brittle and shown some real struggle with her ticking clock I would have wanted to be there with her. In this way I actually think the portrayal of Vanessa, the adoptive mom in Juno, showed a lot more character development.
I guess it’s not too surprising. Even with Hunt’s desire to create and direct an "indie-style" film, for all it’s intentions it read pure Hollywood ending. She ends up with the man and the desperately-wanted baby she managed to get, no matter the literal or figurative cost.