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Kingdom of the Glum

By Ann Morrow

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Directed by Andrew Adamson

Aslan (voice by Liam Neeson), the mystically beneficent lion messiah of Narnia, is seemingly missing, as usual. Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) doesn’t believe in Aslan anyway, and like most of his country folk in the land of Telmarine, he assumes that the talking animals, dwarves, centaurs, and other unusual peoples of Narnia are either extinct or make-believe. But in his hour of need—Caspian’s wicked uncle, King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) is scheming to remove him from the line of succession—Caspian is rescued, in a roundabout way that crosses several centuries, by a magic horn. The horn conjures the fabled kings and queens of Narnia . . . as they are waiting for a train to take them to boarding school. Back in England, only a year has passed. The Pevensie children (William Moseley as Peter, Anna Popplewell as Susan, Skandar Keynes as Edmond, and Georgie Henley as Lucy) have no idea that they are needed in Narnia until they find themselves in their kingdom, now a ruined, somber, and blue-hued place where Lucy is almost mauled by a decidedly noncommunicative bear. “I finally got used to being in England,” sighs Peter, formerly High King Peter the Magnificent.

And so begins the workmanlike second installment of the onscreen adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Again directed by Andrew Adamson, Prince Caspian sprawls across a larger canvass than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. After a brief readjustment to the time-and-reality jump, the royal Pevensies resume their roles as leaders of an uprising, this time against the military might of King Miraz. Yet despite its complexities and the fantastical opportunities it allows for, Caspian’s Shakespearean plot seems dour and ponderous compared to the black-magic machinations of the White Witch (and Tilda Swinton’s alluring ferocity) in the first film.

Director Adamson (Shrek) is still more adept with narrative and special effects—Caspian’s set design is spectacular—than characters or actors, and the Pevensies are even more lacking in enchanting bravura (and snappy dialogue) than before, Lucy excepted. But now she’s a young teenager rather than the saucer-eyed moppet whose sense of wonderment was integral to first film’s charm, and her unshakable belief that Aslan is alive and aiding them somewhere doesn’t add anything (other than a concession to Lewis’ faith-based take on chivalric adventure) to Prince Caspian’s alliance with Narnia. And it’s dashing Caspian, whose doubts are easily turned to optimism, who is the more compelling “high king” of this installment (though his ardor for staid Susan, who would be much more convincing rallying the rear guard in a pair of sturdy Wellies than loosing arrows like Arwen, is rather jarring).

Among the Narnian conscripts is a talking badger, a morose but doughy dwarf (Peter Dinklage), and a herd of centaurs. None of them is particularly endearing or comic, though there is one scene-stealer, the valiant mouse voiced by Eddie Izzard. In battle, this plumed Stuart Little gets medieval on enemy guardsmen by pricking them in the face with his tiny sword. Izzard’s ingenious mousketeer upstages even Aslan himself.

Who Am I?

Then She Found Me

Directed by Helen Hunt

Helen Hunt’s forte as an actress has always been the depiction of intelligent, self-deprecating, slightly prickly women. The success of her pairing with Paul Reiser in the sitcom Mad About You had more to do with the fact that their characters were so similar (see above), than in the ideal of Hunt as ingénue or love interest. The movies that Hunt has subsequently appeared in milk that persona, obviously to great effect, since they’ve earned her awards and award nominations.

Aside from the fact that she cowrote the screenplay and directed the movie, with Then She Found Me, Hunt continues to work her preferred routine. As the 39-year-old teacher April Epner, she is, at movie’s outset, the picture of haggard brittleness. “Damn, she got old!” was my initial reaction, until I accepted the fact that April, married to manchild Ben (Matthew Broderick, also working his stereotypical persona) and unable to fulfill a fevered desire to get pregnant, looks the way anybody would who has spent life waiting patiently for some sort of just reward. Sadly, all April seems to get is a kick in the teeth. First Ben tells her that he’s going home to mother. The next day, her own adopted mom passes away. And then, she is contacted by her birth mother Bernice (Bette Midler), a popular morning TV talk show host who, in all her restless energy, easy poise and razor’s-edge intelligence, seems as diametrically opposed to April as possible. (The effect is felt all the more because Midler and Hunt, in both physicality and approach, have absolutely nothing in common.) As April ponders whether or not to make a connection with Bernice, she also meanders in and out of a flirtation with divorcé Frank (Colin Firth).

Then She Found Me, based on a 1990 novel by Elinor Lipman, is a bittersweet, often penetrating study about the nature of need and the fear of the emotional unknown. April’s adoptive mother urges her to adopt (“In China, they’re throwing babies in the trash!”), insisting that there is no difference between a mother’s love for her adopted or her natural-born child. April’s unwillingness to follow this course seems grounded in an assurance that she can better control the outcome biologically than in risking such an adoption. It’s this kind of fear that sets her to repeatedly screwing up her life, notably by ping-ponging between the commitment-phobe Ben and the reliable yet sexy Frank, or to throwing Bernice out of her life whenever she encounters a fib that the older woman told her. There is a real sense of isolation that lingers about April, but it has nothing to do with her adopted state—and it’s something that takes her the entire movie to figure out.

For all its bittersweet nature, Then She Found Me is surprisingly funny, especially as it details the way wounded people deal with each other, especially new others. Hunt’s April evolves slowly from her emotionally and biologically barren origins to a slightly less-fragile being, able to accept that hurt will happen. She demonstrates a steady hand in her offscreen capacities, particularly in quiet moments, such as when Bernice washes her hair or when she lays in bed with Frank’s kids, that speak to something far deeper than simple comedy. Firth, usually the dapper love interest, here gets to look grungy and lost, and to say things like “Fuck you! Fuck my children!” that are as cleansing for us as they are for Frank. And Midler delivers a solid performance, always carefully keeping it from becoming too funny, too Divine Miss M, and managing to subtly convey a sense of loss and rediscovery. Then She Found Me is the intelligent alternative to, say, Baby Mama, which plays its female characters’ vast differences for lowbrow laughs, instead of mining those differences for real truths about humanity.

—Laura Leon

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