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Hope Floats

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Hope Floats

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Harry Connick Jr.
Director: Forest Whitaker
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: May 1998
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Gena Rowlands, Mae Whitman, Michael Pare, Cameron Finley, Kathy Najimy, Bill Cobbs, Connie Ray, Rosanna Arquette

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"Hope Floats" is a surprisingly conventional romance, a throwback to the old-fashioned, well-constructed, fable of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl. The genders are changed around so that the woman is abandoned and feels without hope, but otherwise one wonders what director Forest Whitaker must have been thinking this time around. Whitaker, who turned in an edgy performance as a hostage in the sharply-focused "The Crying Game" and evoked spiked effectiveness from the vindictive women in "Waiting to Exhale," makes a pit stop with "Hope Floats"--a picture designed to offend nobody.

There is some aspiration for satire and contemporary relevance in the opening scene, one which highlights the vulgarity of current daytime talk shows and especially the senselessness of those who agree to appear on them. On the Tony Post (Kathy Najimy) program, Tony introduces a young woman (in an uncredited role) who tells a nationwide TV audience that she is having an affair with her best friend's husband. Why she chooses the media to make the announcement is anybody's guess. We meet husband Bill Pruitt (Michael Pere) and his wife Birdee (Sandra Bullock) on the TV set, and at that point Whitaker inexplicably cuts away from what could have been an opportunity for productive lampoon.

Birdee and her small daughter Bernice (Mae Whitman) move to the small-town home of Birdee's mother, Ramona Calvert (Gena Rowlands), and the backdrop is formed for Ramona's bid to match her depressed daughter up with a handsome builder, Justin Matisse (Harry Connick, Jr.), whose attentions, she believes, will heal her daughter's ennui.

The theme of "Hope Floats" is, as the title suggests, the idea that the sun comes out tomorrow, that every cloud has a silver lining, so pack up your troubles in your old kit bag. Small-town life is glorified: it's where the soul can heal, far from the neurotic pressures of the metropolis. The story's development is as hackneyed as its themes.

The movie's chief attribute is a stellar performance by Mae Whitman in the role of angry, isolated little girl who holds out for her father's return and who blames her mom for turning away her dad's love. Obviously no feminist, Bernice pouts throughout the film, making faces at Birdee's suitor, Justin, and cries her eyes out when her dad seems unwilling to return to the fold. This is really Bernice's movie: for her, a heartbreaking story of a gifted child who is picked on the school's bully, Orange Julia (Sydney Berry) and who, like her mother, gains an early lesson about the meaning of life. As her mom ultimately teaches her, youth is not the golden years of unalloyed bliss but rather "childhood is what we try to overcome."

A sentimental touch is thrown in from left field, as we meet Birdee's dad, Harry (James N. Harrell), who is afflicted with Alzheimer's and cannot recall the faces of his own family and appears unable event to speak.

The picture's dialogue is of this nature:

Grandma Ramona, in pushing her daughter to get back into circulation: "Do you think behind every change there's another change and another change and another change?"

Husband Bill: "People grow: they change."

Birdee: "I know that I am not what I once was."

With elements of soap, sitcom and seasoned surroundings, "Hope Floats" is redeemed only by the opening scenes burlesquing the talk shows and those featuring young Bernice anguishing over the loss of her daddy's attentions.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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