Hope Floats (1998)

Hope Floats (1998)
  • Time: 114 min
  • Genre: Drama | Romance
  • Director: Forest Whitaker
  • Cast: Sandra Bullock, Harry Connick Jr., Gena Rowlands


Humiliated on national television when her best friend and her husband admit they are in love and having an affair, Birdee Pruitt moves back to her mother’s home in Texas. Returning home, however, is not easy. Her young daughter misses her father and she finds that having been the most popular girl in high school – cheerleader, married the high school quarterback – left a bitter feeling among many of her contemporaries. There is one man, however, who still has feelings for her after all of these years, but can Birdee put her recent past behind her and start a new life?

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  • “Once upon a time, your mama knew what it meant to shine,” Birdee Calvert Pruitt (Sandra Bullock) tells her daughter Bernice (Mae Whitman) as they arrive in Birdee’s hometown of Smithville, Texas.

    In Hope Floats, Bullock stars as the girl who’s always had everything: a popular beauty queen who married the star quarterback (Michael ParĂ©) and lived contentedly as a suburban housewife. Along the way, she’s allowed herself to be lost in her husband’s shadow. The smile that used to stop people on the street is now a smile she hides behind.

    The smile serves her well when she’s brought on a nationally televised talk show and told that her husband is having an affair with her best friend (Rosanna Arquette in an unbilled cameo). It’s the smile she puts on to reassure her daughter, who is sitting in the audience, that everything is fine. Yet behind the smile is a woman wounded, her eyes displaying the shock at her crumbled world.

    Birdee and Bernice pack up and go to live with her mother, the eccentric Ramona (Gena Rowlands). Once there, she’s confronted with memories of the shining star she used to be. Depressed and forlorn, she spurns the advances of a childhood pal, Justin (Harry Connick, Jr.), whom Bernice eyes with wariness. Can Birdee find the strength to continue before she loses the love of her daughter?

    Hope Floats is a winning, if strangely innocuous, film due to an assured central performance by Sandra Bullock, who had to whore herself to get this film made: Twentieth Century Fox agreed to finance the film only if Bullock appeared in Speed 2: Cruise Control, which crashed and burned at the box office. (Gwyneth Paltrow underwent a similar circumstance with Miramax: she costarred in The Pallbearer, an anemic David Schwimmer comedy, in exchange for the lead role in the more substantial Emma.) Bullock is particularly effective in the simpler scenes, such as a heartbreaking slow dance with her Alzheimers-ridden father.

    She also comes through in a scene that has her looking for work at an employment agency run by a bitter old schoolmate who tells her, “I’m not likely to find a listing for prom queen.” Birdee’s humbled plea is delivered with plaintive simplicity by Bullock, who conveys the realization that she’s finally stumbled upon an obstacle she can’t erase with her smile. Her classmates’ reactions to her misfortunes provide an acerbic layer to the film, a layer I wish had been employed more fully.

    Bullock is well-supported by the other actors. She and Connick, Jr. make quite a couple: her down-to-earth attitude and his easy, rambling charm mesh well. Their warm affinity for one another is evident. Their energetic dance scene is a particular delight and one of the few instances that affords the familiar Bullock persona to burst forth. Their romance is a bit underdeveloped but rightly so as his character is written to serve as a stepping stone in Birdee’s process of regaining her identity and sense of self-worth.

    Rowland wisely underplays her floridly written character while nine-year old Whitman handles emotionally difficult scenes with a disturbing, workmanlike aplomb. Cameron Finley, who plays Ramona’s kooky grandson, is more natural and no less effective.

    Actor Forest Whitaker, who helmed the glossy Waiting to Exhale, once again demonstrates his fine directorial abilities and handling of actors. He imbues Hope Floats with a langorous fluidity and expertly stages scenes. However, he should have known better than to include an eye-rollingly cute scene where Bullock, Rowlands and Finley dress up and sing to cheer Whitman up.

    My only complaint is Garth Brooks’ rendition of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love,” which serves as Birdee’s unofficial anthem. Brooks neuters Dylan’s noirish, snakily romantic ballad and turns it into one of those commercially palatable, appallingly schmaltzy ditties. How shameful.

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