|DVD Romantic Comedy|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 14 January 2003|
'Hope Floats' is a whimsical romantic drama that succeeds neither in being entirely naturalistic nor engagingly fanciful. The modicum of charm it possesses is mainly due to the efforts of its hard-working cast.
Birdie (Sandra Bullock) is a nice young wife/mother living what she thinks is a perfectly contented life in Chicago--until she's publicly dumped on national television by her husband, who's having an affair with her best friend. The demoralized Birdie packs up her young daughter Bernice (Mae Whitman) and heads back to her Texas hometown with her tail between her legs to live with her mother (Gena Rowlands). One-time prom queen Birdie is ill-equipped to face the gloating of former acquaintances, but her pragmatic if eccentric mom insists that she get on with her life. Birdie slowly kindles a romance with Justin (Harry Connick, Jr.), an admirer from high school days who has also returned after years in California.
'Hope Floats' seems aimed at viewers who like stories about characters who come to grips with diminished expectations. This is certainly a fact of life for quite a few people, but Steve Rogers' script never gets specific enough about Birdie's past for us to empathize with what she's lost. Since our first sight of her husband is as a cheating louse who humiliates Birdie in front of the world and who cruelly mistreats his adoring daughter, it's hard to understand why she didn't ditch the creep long ago, much less why she's moping about the break-up. Touches of almost surreal comedyÑthe talk show incident, Birdie's mother's habit of dressing up animal taxidermy subjects (something some viewers may find extremely unfunny to begin with)Ñwork against the seriousness that 'Hope Floats' strives for elsewhere.
Director Forest Whitaker ('Waiting To Exhale') and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel create beauty in the Texas landscapes without dwelling on it overmuch, making for a look that is consistently handsome, though they never show us any sights that are deeply memorable. The sound mix is extremely high-caliber, with sensitivity to dialogue, ambient sound and music throughout--Chapter 5 has an especially admirable blend of mother/daughter conversation, Dave Grusin's unobtrusive but pretty scoring and footsteps on grass blended with the cries of playing schoolchildren in the background.
The actors all have a good, persuasive way with the dialogue, even when the sentiments are expressed in platitudes, and once in awhile, writer Rogers puts forth a genuinely droll concept.