HOPE FLOATS - but just barely. As directed by WAITING TO EXHALE's
director, Forest Whitaker, the latest attempt by Sandra Bullock to find
another movie to display her talents is at best a partial success. The
imminently forgettable HOPE FLOATS is a gossamer movie that is filled
with pleasant but insubstantial little romantic dramas.
Harry Connick Jr., who plays opposite Bullock, is given a series
of recycled scenes. Typical of these is the one in which he gets her
to smile by using the age-old technique of taunting her with a "Don't
The story opens strongly with one of those confrontational talk
shows. Birdee Pruitt (Bullock) is blindfolded and in an isolation
booth as in the old television quiz shows like "Twenty-One" or "The
$64,000 Question." Once she and her husband, played blandly by Michael
Pare, are released from their confinement, her "best" friend, played in
a cameo by an uncredited Rosanna Arquette, confesses that she is having
an affair with Birdee's husband.
An embarrassed Birdee leaves Chicago to head for her hometown of
Smithville, Texas, where she was the "Queen of Corn" three years
running. Accompanying Birdee is her shy 9-year-old daughter Bernice,
played charmingly by Mae Whitman from ONE FINE DAY. Bernice is a
daddy's girl, who spends most of the movie wanting to return to her
favorite parent. A subplot has her accidentally hitting a mean, tubby
girl with a volleyball and then living in fear of retribution.
Birdee and Bernice live with Birdee's crazy mother Ramona Calvert
(Gena Rowlands), who has a house filled with dead but properly stuffed
animals, ranging from cats to armadillos to bears. Equally quirky is
Birdee's nephew Travis, played by Cameron Finley, seen last year as the
Beaver in LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. Travis lives his life in one fantasy
role after another.
Although Birdee claims to be reconciled to her new situation -
"People fall in love. They fall right back out. It happens all the
time." - she mopes around the house in her robe. Her mother offers
trite consolation. "Look at me," she points out. "My life has no
meaning or direction, and I'm happy." The locals, who all saw Birdee
mortified on national TV, treat her as though she were the one with the
Since Birdee's has no work experience and her only talents are
keeping house and photography, she gets a job as a one-hour photo shop
technician. As her love interest, a good old boy with a toothy grin
named Justin Matisse (Connick) comes a courting. Justin, who had a
crush on Birdee in high school, has recently returned from California
where he lost his great job because "he wouldn't work fast enough."
(Another victim of those slave-driving, California employers.)
In one of movie's many funny scenes, Birdee relates how Justin
shocked her with a kiss when she was a girl. When he stuck his tongue
in her mouth, she thought he might have had a stroke or something.
Too often Whitaker's staging amounts to a series of lost
opportunities. When Birdee first gets her photo shop job, for example,
the owner explains that they keep a copy of all risque photos in a
special drawer and that she is free to look at them but not to remove
them. The payoff scene, in which she sneaks a peak and then guiltily
slams the drawer shut, never occurs.
The show's lone tragedy of any real import is handled with
touching delicacy, but it may be hard to take for those who may have
recently lost a loved one.
Even if there is little genuine chemistry between the leads, it is
refreshing to see an old fashioned picture in which two lovers, who
"sleep" with each other, seem to do exactly that and nothing more.
They also go parking in his pickup, and he remarks that he feels like a
16-year-old again. Ah, nostalgia.
Whitaker should be ashamed of the child exploitation scenes that
he uses to bracket the story. In the opening humiliation sequence,
little Bernice is made to sit in the front row as her mom is disgraced
on live television. The scene ends with the camera shamelessly framing
her as she gushes with tears. An even more sickening scene with the
girl occurs toward the end of the picture.
Even if the movie is shallow and uneven, it has its charms, not
that you'll remember any of them by the next day. And if Bullock isn't
as good as she was in WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, at least she is
infinitely better than in her insipid performance in IN LOVE AND WAR.
Perhaps Bullock needs just the right role in order to shine. HOPE
FLOATS makes her appealing but rarely compelling. Hopefully Bullock
will strike cinematic pay dirt in her next outing. She's such a
likable person that we're rooting for her.
HOPE FLOATS runs 1:50. It is rated PG-13 for thematic elements
and would be fine for kids around 10 and up.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes