"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
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
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