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An Icon in Reality

One of the most memorable times with my wife and kids was on a Norfolk holiday and one afternoon going to see the movie Twister.

Sure, the day was lovely and sunny and an extremely happy one with our two sons still quite young but I am lucky enough to have had very many of those as the boys are now in their mid-30s.

No, the reason this day is particularly special is because it was the first time I ever saw Helen Hunt in something and she was magical.

From start to finish Twister was a great watch, full of action and thrills. But it was at times also a very tender and touching film and Helen was the beautiful face and character who produced this.

Helen Hunt oozes depth in her roles as well as beauty and style. Graceful but she can hoof it with the men, a gunshot wit, she is a spectacular mix as her movies other than Twister - especially As Good As It Gets with Jack. Nicholson and Cast Away with Tom Hanks - demonstrate.

In Twister there are moments when Helen is the only one on screen although she is sharing it with others. True cinema gold.

Helen Hunt in Twister

Not that long ago, Helen starred in what many would see, for a top Oscar-winning performer, as an amazing risk and a role demanding extreme courage to be comfortable in your own skin. The Sessions cast Helen as a sex therapist seeking to enable a completely paralysed man - except for his nether regions - to successfully have sex with another person. After many ups and downs (excuse the pun), she achieves this for him and in doing so fulfils a deep yearning inside her too. It is a remarkable film, funny, erotic, sad and insightful, but there is no element of voyeurism or titillation despite the sex scenes and the periods when Helen is fully naked.

You see an acutely committed human being seeking to bring joy and physical attainment to a man stripped of movement and, largely, dignity. The range of emotions Helen is able to reveal as she works her way to his climax, in all ways of the word, and simultaneously hers too, mentally and physically, is considerable. In a way you don’t see Helen naked at all but as an everyday angel at work.

In Cast Away, Helen is a main character but due to Tom Hanks’ lengthy sojourn on his desert island, she is only in the movie at the start and end. But what impact she makes nevertheless.

At first, she basks in the huge mutual love she and Tom share, their scenes packed with Helen’s trademark depth and feeling. Why wouldn’t anyone not love Kelly Frears?

Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt - early love in Cast Away

But it is in the near final scene that Helen brings all her skills to play, wrapping the viewer in the emotional blanket she spreads and with Tom, I think, produces one of the best and most heart rending in film.

Some years later the two are reunited. Kelly has married and has a young daughter after being urged to move on, and Tom has returned, brought back to life, having finally escaped his island by dint of a sheet of plastic that blew in one day giving him a raft sail to jump the previously huge barrier waves battering the shore.

Tom, home but knowing Kelly is married, taxis to her house in the rain in the middle of the night. The lost love tension between them is almost unbearable and when Tom drives away in his car she kept for him, he is just out of sight when Helen’s heart-dam bursts and she runs after ‘the love of her life’ for a long, tear-jerking kiss as the heavens weep over them. Tom of course is superb as ever but every time I see that film and that scene my Twister eyes only really see Helen.

Helen Hunt as Kelly in the classic 'rain' scene at the end of Cast Away

So, imagine my pent-up excitement and anticipation when I went to London’s Old Vic to see Helen star in a relatively recent play, Eureka Day. A rare chance to actually witness Helen act in the flesh. All those Twister, As Good As It Gets, Cast Away, The Sessions feelings bubbling away.

I was not disappointed. Helen was very good indeed and although mostly a comedy, the trademark Hunt subtleties were all there. Helen owned the stage yet shared it in a highly entertaining ensemble piece about a young children’s school.

Coming away from that grand theatre which has seen so many greats grace its boards, I felt contented I had seen Helen in person at last and she had proved every ounce the tremendous actress and emotive performer she has always been. But I felt too a complete joy that one of my life’s living icons had lived up to the billing I have always given her since that wonderful Norfolk day when my two boys were young.

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