Film Review: Hope Floats (1998)
Directed by Forest Whittaker and starring Sandra Bullock, Gena Rowlands, Harry Connick Jr. and Mae Whitman, Hope Floats is a dramedy with a healthy-sized portion of romance on the side.
First and foremost, though, Hope Floats is an examination of the often strained, yet unconditionally loving relations between mothers and daughters.
After a rather spectacularly humiliating end to her marriage on a sleazy talk show on national TV, Birdee Pruitt (Bullock) returns home to her parents’ house in the little town of Smithville, Texas, with her young daughter Bernice (Mae Whitman) in tow. She is there to lick her wounds, wallow and reevaluate the course of her life.
When a Queen B Falls from Grace
Birdee was once the Queen B of Smithville, the beautiful cheerleader, prom queen, girlfriend of the quarterback. Her life has always been about looking good, looking the part, being the arm candy and the dutiful woman beside and behind a desirable man. In her very public fall from grace, there are some in her hometown who feel a smug sense of comeuppance in her current situation. The mean girl from high school is finally getting her just desserts. Birdie must eat humble pie on more than one occasion and own up to her past cruelties.
Birdee and Bernice return to a sprawling abode, filled with the taxidermic creations of Birdee’s eccentric mother Ramona (Gena Rowlands). She and her mother are estranged. Her father, who has been her closest ally and confidant, is in a care facility, suffering from Alzheimer’s and barely acknowledges her existence. Birdee’s absentee sister has parked her own son in her mother’s care. Travis is an odd, loving, creative, little boy. Birdee’s own daughter, Bernice, is a precocious, willful, little girl, full of anger at her parents’ separation. Birdee takes the brunt of this anger. And Ramona takes the brunt of Birdee’s anger. Yeah, there are lots of anger and accusations and recriminations to go around in this household, lots of old and new hurts. And lots of love.
One Yummy Cowboy Waiting in the Wings
As the very film title suggests, this is about a woman struggling to keep her head above water after a devastation in her life. And slowly, but surely, it becomes not just about surviving and floating, but about swimming with a purpose. Birdee begins to take her own life in her hands, to dare to dream, to work, to forgive and maybe even to love again.
Justin Matisse (Harry Connick Jr.) is the patient, gentle, yummy cowboy, steadfastly and quietly loving this woman. We never know really why he’s still hanging around Smithville, especially when he’s an architect with money. But now he’s just doing odd handiwork jobs around town. And he loves Birdee, has always loved her. And it could seem a bit stalker-ish, but, hey, you know, you let it go. He’s a fine, fine man.
And Birdee has to decide if she’s going to accept this love from this fine, fine man and reciprocate.
It Gets Me Every Time
Hope Floats gets me every time. The critics panned it, called it saccharine and corny and disingenuous. But I’ve always loved it and fall for it every single time. I cry. I sigh. The acting is first-rate; Sandra Bullock is at her finest here, revealing depth and nuance. Mae Whitman is a revelation. Gena Rowlands shines so brightly. Harry Connick Jr. is a real charming treat. And yeah, it’s a little bit corny. And yeah, there is some very convenient plotting at times. But the film charms nonetheless. There are some great scenes, some great dialogue and some great chemistry between mothers, daughters and one yummy cowboy. Give it a chance.
“Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome. That’s what momma always says. She says that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up.”
Content Note: Rated PG-13 for mature subject matter.
Where to Watch: Hope Floats is available to stream on STARZ on Amazon Channels. Available to rent and/or buy on Amazon Video, Fandango Now, iTunes, VUDU, Google Play, Youtube, and DVD.
Photo Credits: 20th Century Fox.
“Happiness in marriage is entirely a
matter of chance.”