Review: Bullock makes 'Hope' floatMay 29, 1998
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EDT (0200 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- Sandra Bullock is back once again in the genre that helped make her a star: a romantic film with comedic overtones. This time she's teamed with singer-actor Harry Connick Jr. in a sweet little story about love, family, and starting over. The movie is "Hope Floats," and while it may not float very high, it is definitely Bullock at her best.
Actually, "Hope Floats" is payback time for the star. Bullock agreed to that water-logged mess of a movie "Speed II: Cruise Control" so that Twentieth Century Fox would greenlight "Hope Floats," a project close to her heart. In fact, she was one of the executive producers of the film and was involved in all aspects of its making.
One of the first decisions made by Bullock and her producer Linda Obst was to hire Forest Whitaker as director. Whitaker, who's also a gifted actor, became known as a "woman's director" when he helmed the ultimate "chick flick," "Waiting To Exhale," an ensemble film co-starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett, among others. Both films deal with women who try to overcome problems with men while attempting to regain a sense of self. Whitaker's reputation in this area is well deserved.
"Hope Floats" opens with our heroine, Birdee, played by Bullock, learning while on a sleazy talk show that her no-good husband is cheating on her with her best friend (a cameo appearance by Rosanna Arquette). The wandering hubby is played by Michael Pare of "Eddie And The Cruisers" fame. (Whatever happened to his career?)
This tacky, wacky beginning sets the story in motion. But then (thankfully) the audience is suddenly jarred into fast-forward, as the film morphs into a whole different movie, with an entirely different tone. (That is, a much better movie with a much better tone.) In this new movie, we find Birdee on the road in full retreat, heading to Texas and her small hometown with her young daughter in tow. Thomas Wolfe be damned. She can go home again.
Birdee's whole identity has been based on being the perfect wife and mother. On her return to Texas she finds herself questioning her values and her purpose in life. Add to her emotional luggage the fact that most of Birdee's biggest succcesses took place in high school. (We're talking about being crowned Corn Queen of Smithville three years in a row.) Naturally, she's trying to recapture the magic of those days when she rode on floats made out of toilet paper and wore rhinestone tiaras. She's also attempting to heal her wounded pride and start her life anew.
After a somewhat rocky beginning on the talk-show circuit, "Hope Floats" settles into a semi-sweet, Southern-paced romance between Birdee and Justin, played very effectively by Harry Connick Jr. He's a hometown boy she barely remembers, but the torch he's carried for her all these years is still burning brightly.
The plot also depicts a wonderful relationship between Birdee and her eccentric mother, Ramona, played beautifully by Oscar winner Gena Rowlands. The widowed Momma has spent much of her time making dozens of dresses for the animals that were stuffed by her late taxidermist husband. These animals, I might add, are scattered all over the house.
She tells her daughter at one point, "I like all of God's creatures. I just like some of them better stuffed." But Ramona and Birdee have never really connected, and now the two are faced with getting to know and appreciate each other's strengths and weaknesses.
On the other end of the generational scale is the relationship between Birdee and her young daughter, Bernice, played by Mae Whitman. At nine years old, Whitman is already a veteran of such films as "Independence Day" and "One Fine Day." This young actress handles her role superbly, and is one of the best things about this movie.
"Hope Floats" aspires to be another "Terms of Endearment." It isn't. But it's still a nice little date movie with its heart in the right place.
OK, all you women who have been dragged to "Godzilla" -- it's payback time. Yes, this is a "chick flick," but the fine acting by Bullock, Rowlands, Connick and Whitman elevates this film and makes it a poignant and emotionally-charged journey for all viewers.
All romantic films are predictable to a point, so it's all about the journey taken by the characters. With "Hope Floats," nothing is tied up with a neat little bow, and there are ragged emotional edges -- just as in real life. Birdee and Justin may or may not ride off into the sunset together.
Bullock is back doing what she does best -- playing a woman whom men want to protect and women want to befriend. Sandra, you're forgiven for "Speed II" ... just don't do that to us again. Ever.
"Hope Floats" is rated "PG-13" with a running time of 110 minutes.
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