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IN SHORT: A great date flick start. A major chick flick finish.
For about the first half hour, I thought Hope Floats was going to pull off that rarer than anything combination found in the perfect date flick. In its first half hour or so, Hope Floats was funny and engaging enough to keep any guy happy (we don't have to say a word about Sandra Bullock, whose babies I would gladly carry) and sweetly romantic and touching for the ladies.
But as it developed into a three hanky flick, a story of love lost and thematically of childhood lost... well that's how it seemed to me... the flick started to feel real long. Hope Floats begins with the heretofore not seen on screen idea, to tell the story of one of those folk humiliated on a national TV talk show. The "Toni Post Show" is a thinly veiled Ricki Lake clone with Kathy Najimi as the host. The poor dolt is Birdie Pruitt (Bullock), whose husband has been sleeping with her best friend for over a year.
Birdie is the girl in high school who "had it all". She married the perfect guy and moved away to Chicago, leaving behind the guy who had the hots for her and, it is inferred, behaved like a skunk. Post humiliation, all grown up with no skills but housewife, she packs up her 9-year old daughter Bernice (Mae Whitman) and heads home to the teeny tiny town of Smithville, Texas where her mom (Gena Rowlands) stuffs dead animals for a living.
That last line should have caught you off guard. That sort of quirky humor is all over Hope Floats, in a well written script by Steven Rogers. Rogers gives both Birdie and her mom lots of background material to work with. There is less so for the new love interest, Justin Matisse (Harry Connick Jr.) -- who is in the uncomfortable position of trying to court a woman who hasn't yet made the solid break with her philandering ex. By the time that break comes, near the end of the flick, it leaves very little time for the traditional happy ending.
In chick flick mode, once it gets down, Hope Floats will start to push all your buttons about things you left behind in high school, choices not made, real emotional regret stuff. It also adds an Alzheimer stricken father, and old high school classmates doing the little happy dance as the prom queen returns in shame. It'll get you regardless of whether you're male or female. It'll whack you from out of nowhere and you may find yourself clutching at the air, trying to keep the tears in. I really hate that. I'd hate it even more if I found myself in a puddle. Of course, I'm a guy.
After Hope Floats kicks into chick flick mode it doesn't know where to go. It isn't enough that it pushes your buttons effortlessly. It has to destroy almost every character, emotionally or otherwise, and that's pushing it too far. By the time the requisite happy ending is nailed on, said ending is forced and feels unreal.
That all of Cranky's emotional crap was stirred up is a tip of the cap to a fine performance by Sandra Bullock. It's been so long since she's had good material to work with, I had little hopes for Hope Floats. But I was wrong. Connick is fine. Rowlands is great and totally outstanding is Mae Whitman, whom you may recognize from Chicago Hope, as the kidlet. The emotional range to this little girl's performance is almost mesmerizing. It alone is worth most of the ticket price.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Hope Floats, he would have paid . . .
It's a good, not great date flick. My ex would've gone through enough Kleenex to kick Kimberly-Clark stock up a buck. Cranky kept looking at his watch finding, to my taste, that Hope Floats is half an hour too much.
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