Hope Springs (2003)
Firth Springs Forth in Hope
I can feel your resolve stiffening - Vera
"Hope Springs", the Colin Firth lead romantic comedy, is surprisingly charming and mildly entertaining but sadly also completely obvious. Combining stereotypical storylines and predictable comedy "Hope Springs" ends up being a run of the mill movie rather than one which develops into something more interesting. Even with a well chosen cast featuring Colin Firth, Heather Graham and Minnie Driver "Hope Springs" is pretty much a Plain Jane when it comes to romantic comedies. What is more surprising is that it is an adaptation of "New Cardiff" by Charles Webb, the same Charles Webb who wrote "The Graduate" and in comparison feels completely inferior.
English artist Colin (Colin Firth - Genova), who having been dumped by his fiancée Vera (Minnie Driver - Return to Me), leaves England heartbroken and heads to Hope in America to start over. Thanks to Joanie (Mary Steenburgen) the match making landlady of his temporary home, the Battlefield Inn, he is introduced to Mandy (Heather Graham - Sidewalks of New York), who with the aid of alcohol and nudity manages to break through Colin's awfully English reserve and sombre mood. Friendship soon turns to romance which is brought to a grinding halt when Vera show up in Hope hoping to break Colin's stiffening resolve and win him back.
Despite starting quite well "Hope Springs" does not offer us anymore than a mergence of a couple of well known themes, that being a slightly complicated love triangle which blends with the boy meets girl storyline. The blend actually is very good and provides for plenty of well choreographed but ultimately predictable scenarios such as Colin's bitchy ex causing an issue between him and his new love when she alludes to a continuing sexual relationship. It's just that not one single scene seems that original, it's as if somewhere during the writing process someone sat down with a bunch of romantic comedies and basically picked all those memorable scenes and merged them into one.
What also doesn't help matters is that "Hope Springs" suffers from some terrible pacing causing moments which are so void of anything interesting that they become awkward just like an uncomfortable silence, which ironically is something used a fair few times throughout the movie. Part of the trouble with the pacing is that it lacks that spark of romance to make those moments of silence feel natural, instead making it feel more like a chilled out comedy rather than anything really romantic.
There is plenty of opportunity for it to make a claim as being a really romantic movie but seems to restrain itself, never really reaching that point of being a heart warming tale. Instead it prefers to go for cheap laughs such as making the most of Colin's staid British ness. There again is another problem as that joke can only work for so long before it becomes annoying and taking the mickey out of his phrasing of words ends up more patronising than humorous.
Now I don't see what all the fuss is over Colin Firth, I can't see why so many people swoon over his bumbling British ness, but credit where it's due and he manages to make his character of Colin Ware likeable despite never having any depth, something which affects all the characters. I say he is likeable purely because you feel for him having been dumped in the most horrible way, but then I still struggled when it came to the romantic side of his character, it was just too awkward and seemed to be going over the top when it tried to highlight the stiffness of being British. This was made worse by scenes where he seems to break out of character and does something unexpected such as a tassel dance using a scarf; it just doesn't feel right although the tassel dance scene is amusing.
Opposite Firth you have two undeniable lovely ladies Heather Graham and Minnie Driver playing the love interests in the not so confusing love triangle. Graham in the role of Mandy starts off as being as bright as a button but seems to get worn down as the movie progresses and that genuine spark demonstrated in the early scenes seems to have been lost somewhere along the way. It's a very uneven character which is saved thanks to Graham being very likeable and her willingness to disrobe in various scenes. On the other hand you have Minnie Driver who is intentionally less likeable as Colin's bitchy and manipulative ex Vera, why they chose the name Vera is beyond me as it's so old fashioned. The trouble is when it comes to Vera the character is just short of being a pantomime villain with a penchant for smoking, something I presume is used to make us like her less. There is nothing real about the character and so cliché that you not only know what she will do next to try and scupper Colin's new found love but also take a good stab at the inane dialogue she spouts as well.
But the thing which lets all three of them down is a lack of chemistry, it just didn't feel believable that Colin had once date Vera and now was enjoying new love with Mandy. There was no spark between them, nothing which made it feel real or that Colin was actually in a dilemma thanks to having two women vying for his affections.
The daft thing is the most enjoyable performances come from the supporting cast such as Oliver Platt as the slightly over the top and egotistical Mayor of Hope, Doug Reed or Mary Steenburgen who is marvellous as Joanie Fisher, the match making owner of the Battlefield Inn. It is the supporting cast who actually make "Hope Springs" amusing and inject that spark which is missing from the main characters.
What this all boils down to is that "Hope Springs" is a slightly charming romantic comedy but one which is distinctly average because it lacks anything original to make it stand out or a believability to the characters to make you empathise with them. It's the sort of movie where you can be comfortable in knowing what to expect but also disappointed that it is neither overly romantic or laugh out loud funny. It is basically charming, mild amusing and at just 92 minutes is not overly long, if a little unevenly paced.
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