HOPE FLOATS (director: Forest Whitaker; screenwriter: Steve Rogers; cinematographer: Caleb Deschanel; editor: Richard Chew; cast: Sandra Bullock (Birdee Pruitt), Harry Connick Jr. (Justin Matisse), Gena Rowlands (Ramona Calvert), Mae Whitman (Bernice Pruitt), Michael Pare (Bill Pruitt), Kathy Najimy (Toni Post), Rosanna Arquette (Friend); Runtime: 114; 20th Century-Fox; 1998)

"This very ordinary story is told soap opera style..."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sandra Bullock is Birdee Pruitt. She's the former prom queen who learns on a national TV talk-show that her husband Bill (Pare) is having an affair with her best friend (Arquette). She had been suckered into appearing on the show thinking she was getting a makeover, and is startled to see her friend and her husband blare out this gossip on the tube. This crushes her. So she takes her daughter Bernice (Mae) and moves back to the small Texas town she was born in, as she stays there with her eccentric mother Ramona Calvert (Gena). Birdee is pictured as the loyal and true wife, who married her high school sweetheart and is left psychologically scarred. She has lost the boldness she once had, and seems unsure of herself for the first time in her life. There is a gnawing self-pity that now permeates her character. This very ordinary story is told soap opera style, evoking heart-tugging sympathy for the victim. How could you not feel sorry for her?

Steven Rogers's script adds a bit of conflict to the story by having the mother-daughter relationship be strained. But the conflict is one-sided, as Birdee's daughter is just a brat and she is just perfect. All the daughter moans  is that she wants her father back. When the father does come back he asks for a divorce, but he fails to take his daughter. That took care of that little conflict.

A romance was introduced by way of the Harry Connick Jr. character. He's Justin Matisse, someone who always had a crush on the very pretty all-American girl but never had the nerve to pursue the popular cheerleader. He conveniently pops up wherever she is; and, the handsome cowboy comes across as a real nice guy who would be ideally suited for her. At least, that's what Mamma Ramona thinks, as she tries to push them together. At this point of the film, I was hoping for some comedy or music to break out, like someone singing: Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match... .

This film just couldn't move me with this familiar story line; its sole purpose was to try and get me so misty eyed for these two nice people who can't find romance together, that I would forget this was all fluff. By the film's conclusion, there is the predictable happy ending. The last shot is of the couple out on a family-style date, supposedly on their way to future marital bliss. I guess this is okay because you really can't root against them, and the way this film was slowly moving along I thought it would never end. At least, by getting them together, it satisfied an audience who would appreciate seeing such a clean-cut romance. It was truly a woman's pic.

The nicest thing about this film was that it made for pleasant viewing; there was just nothing to be angry about. Sandra Bullock is very pretty and very nice, which helped. She also has the best line, as she comments about her husband: "The harder I tried to be what he wanted me to be, the less I saw in his eyes. And then one day I looked and I was gone."

REVIEWED ON 6/20/99      GRADE: C-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"