Underwhelming, unimaginative and unexciting are the surprising words I find coming to mind to describe Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr's "Hope Floats", I would say unpredictable as well but that would be a blatant lie as it's one of the most predictable movies I have watched in recent years. Unfortunately "Hope Floats" never really gets going, it never challenges you to think and due to this it is a pretty mediocre romantic drama which although inoffensive is also forgettable.
Crushed on a national television show when her husband admits to having an affair with her best friend, Birdee Pruitt (Sandra Bullock - Speed 2: Cruise Control) moves back to Smithville, Texas with her daughter and to her mother Ramona's (Gena Rowlands - The Neon Bible) home. But going back to her childhood home is not that easy as not only does her young daughter miss her father and hopes that they will get back together but she finds that having once been the most popular girl in school, who married the high school football star has left an ill feeling among many of her old school friends. There is however one man in the town, Justin Matisse (Harry Connick Jr. - Excess Baggage) who still has feelings for her which he has harboured since their teenage years. The question is can Birdee put her recent troubles behind her and start over again?
In all fairness "Hope Floats" actually starts quite well with a scene featuring a Ricky Lake like chat show which sees Birdee humiliated in typical chat show fashion when her husband admits to having an affair with her best friend. But then all hope disappears as the movie basically flat lines and never regains a heart beat, trundling out one predictable scenario after another. If only "Hope Floats" could have maintained the quirky and humorous start through its entirety it would have been quite a good movie, but it doesn't. Instead it just takes on a traditional romantic storyline and goes through the motions till it finally finishes. I wouldn't have minded if it tried to mix things up a bit but for some reason director Forest Whitaker just sticks to a rigid formula which makes even the little bit of a twist in the storyline come over as completely predictable.
Part of the issue is that "Hope Floats" never really decides whether it wants to be funny or not. The opening is intentionally quite funny in its parodying of chat shows but then it seems to lose the humour replacing it with the occasional out of place quirky moment but never really making you laugh. There are obvious attempts to incorporate humour into the movie but they never come off, they may make you smile but it all makes it slightly uneasy as other than trying to be romantic it sits on the fence dipping its toes in both sides with moments of humour and moments of drama, but never mastering either.
Then of course "Hope Floats" is a romance, well sort of, well actually it's not that romantic. Being predictable you can see where the romantic element of the storyline will lead, who it will involve and pretty much second guess various scenes as the romance plays out. But again "Hope Floats" never fully immerses itself in being romantic and those supposedly touching moments as Birdee discovers love after the confusion of her adulterous marriage are nothing more than cheap and obvious. Did I feel loved up or in the least bit sentimental over the story, heck no because it never tries to be anything more than easy on the eye.
One thing which really did irk me when it came to "Hope Floats" is that director Forest Whitaker seems to be experimenting throughout the movie with various techniques, all of which I presume have been used to try and add atmosphere. But scenic shots, slow motion, blue lighting, soft focus and camera trickery only added to making "Hope Floats" feel unbalanced. Sorry Mr. Whitaker but it just felt as though "Hope Floats" had no solid direction and was allowed to float along trying this and that till we got that predictable ending.
As for the performances, well Sandra Bullock starts off well as those opening scenes where Birdee not only has to deal with being humiliated on national TV but the aftermath of moving back to her childhood home are actually reasonably good. But then it feels like after that she's just going through the motions and hoping for the movie to come to an end soon. Then there is Harry Connick Jr. who like Bullock never seems to really do anything more than the bare minimum. Yes he looks good but his character is surprisingly 2 dimensional and so never comes across as really that believable. This is capped off unfortunately by Mae Whitman who comes across as a stereotypical and annoying child. No criticism of Whitman herself as I am sure that the character was written to be stereotypical to fit in with the unimaginative storyline. And as for Gena Rowlands well what a waste of a talented actress.
What all this boils down to is that "Hope Floats" is an inoffensive movie which basically does what every other movie in the genre does, but never tries to add anything new or exciting to stop it from feeling predictable and stale. I want to be more positive and say that for some they will really enjoy it but it's not the best romantic drama, it's not Bullock at her best and it's not really memorable either, it is what it is - inoffensive.