Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
2 stars out of 4
"Hope Floats" is a pretty good movie for a chick flick. Now, before you
start yelling about sexism, read a little further. The term "chick flick"
is used, often derisively, to describe a certain type of romantic movie.
Aimed at female audiences, chick flicks are tearjerkers featuring noble
women who suffer, usually due to an insensitive male or a horrible
disease. When not busy agonizing or looking wistfully into the distance,
the women bond with each other and learn important lessons about life.
More often than not, chick flicks include one dance scene with a hunky
guy, three angry confrontations where hurtful words are exchanged, a
speech about forgiveness, and the death of at least one pivotal character.
The films invariably end with our plucky heroine, bruised, but wiser,
taking the first tentative steps into the next phase of her life.
As anyone who has seen "Field of Dreams" or "Good Will Hunting" knows,
there are male versions of chick flicks. In these, the main guy mopes
around a lot while his buddies fret about him (in a very masculine way,
of course.) After a few angry confrontations and lots of cussing or
spitting, the leading man has an emotional breakthrough and hugs his
father, or a father figure, while sobbing. Embarrassed but wiser, the
guys exchange mock insults, then our hero takes the first tentative steps
into the next phase of his life, while the men in the audience quickly
dry their eyes before the lights come up.
See, it all balances out.
Everyone enjoys a good cry and there's nothing inherently wrong with
either the male or female versions of chick flicks, as long as the
material is handled well. Despite its downbeat storyline, "Hope Floats"
works more often than not, thanks to Sandra Bullock's charisma and
director Forest Whitaker's sense of style and attention to detail.
The film begins on a Jerry Springer style talk show, where Bullock's
character has come to receive a makeover. Instead, the naïve Chicago
housewife is ambushed by her best friend and husband, who inform her that
they are having an affair. Heartbroken and humiliated in front of a
national audience, she packs up her daughter and heads home to Smithville,
Texas, where she was once the Corn Queen.
The bulk of the film deals with adjustments, as Bullock licks her wounds
and tries to figure out what to do next while dealing with her
traumatized daughter, crusty mother and a handsome ex-schoolmate who has
a crush on her.
Sandra Bullock has laid low since her natural charm was snuffed in last
years megabomb, "Speed 2: Cruise Control," which even she conceded was a
"stinker." Bullock doesn't have a great deal of range as an actor, but
"Hope Floats" plays to her strengths and she comes off smelling like a
rose. Harry Connick Jr., another actor with limited range, is well-cast
as the resident studmuffin and young Mae Whitman does fine as Bullock's
daughter. Playing the earthy Texas matriarch, Gena Rowlands has a number
of effective scenes, although her character, who trots out ghoulish
stuffed animals along with her homilies, is overly reminiscent of Barnard
Hughes' taxidermist grandpa in "The Lost Boys."
What keeps "Hope Floats" from playing like just another Lifetime Channel
movie is Bullock's effervescence and Forest Whitaker's direction.
Whitaker, one of America's finest actors, hit big as a director with
"Waiting To Exhale," and exhibits great assurance here, using imaginative
camera work to add flair to the low-key storyline. Whitaker establishes
an easygoing pace, then explores the details of this small town, from a
playful lip-sync scene to a beautiful dissolve from a real landscape to
the figures inside of a glass snow globe. He provides the film with a
sense of grace that makes even the more mawkish scenes tolerable.
The best moments in "Hope Floats" are the little ones; a showdown between
the daughter and a pudgy school bully, a gentle, but frank discussion
with a spiteful employment agent, and a very nice moment when Connick
explains why he does woodworking as a hobby instead of a full-time job.
"You find something you love," he says, "then you twist and turn it
trying to find a way to make money from it. By the time you're finished,
you can't even remember what it was you loved." Thanks goodness that
doesn't hold true to film criticism.
In the vast realm of chick flicks, "Hope Floats" is a minor pleasure.
Sure, it's no "Terms of Endearment," but it's light years better than
fare like "A Thousand Acres." Whitaker has crafted a film of small truths
and lyrical moments. He's also given Sandra Bullock a chance to get her
career back in motion. As long as she steers clear of cruise ships, she
should do just fine.
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott