- Sandra Bullock as Birdie Pruitt
- Harry Connick Jr as Justin Matisse
- Gena Rowlands as Ramona Calvert
- Mae Whitman as Bernice Pruitt
- Michael Paré as Bill Pruitt
Its predictable and not much in the way of a surprise happens in it, but within its framework of a romantic drama, Hope Floats gains points for sturdy direction from Forest Whitaker and a moving performance from Sandra Bullock.
Birdie Pruitt thought she had a great life with her husband Bill. That was until she discovered that he had been having an affair with her best friend. To make matters even worse, this surreptitious relationship is revealed on a television show where Birdie thought she was going for a free makeover. Reeling from her husband’s betrayal and humiliated beyond belief, Birdie packs up her car and moves back to her Texas hometown with her young daughter Bernice. She doesn’t particularly want to go back home, but it appears to be the only place she can get as her eccentric mother Ramona is still there. Her mother is a get up and go lady who tries to help her daughter, though this is a big hurdle at first. Young Bernice is also miserable because she loves both of her parents, but being a child doesn’t quite understand the complexity of the situation and to top that off, she doesn’t fit in at her school. Birdie was once the popular girl in town who was elected Prom Queen and made the cheerleading squad, which made her the envy of a lot of girls. Now that she’s back in town and going through a rough time, her enemies and old acquaintances seem more than happy to see her on her knees. Potential support and a lift out of the doldrums takes the shape of old friend Justin Matisse, a good-hearted and handsome man who always had his eye on her in younger days. Slowly and with help, Birdie begins to take stock of her life and emerge from her hurting shell to experience life again through new eyes.
Forest Whitaker is in the directing chair and his vision is quite promising and colourful, even if the script is basically ticking off all the things you expect from this kind of movie. Whitaker’s direction is quite simple and allows the emotions to flow freely, giving the actors chance to do their thing. To summarise, Whitaker has a gentle and amiable touch to the film that while not anything revolutionary, provides you with something to smile about in the long run. What Hope Floats does that sets it apart from others if only by a small margin, is the way that it gets you to connect with the characters. There are moments of genuine poignant feeling in it that I will admit stirred my heart and soul. Yes I know it is schmaltzy and not a film that is going to get my brain working, but the sentiment of confronting life and rebuilding yourself worked its magic on me. Hope Floats isn’t afraid to show the difficult things in life that we go through, which makes the uplifting pervading tone as it goes on all the more arresting, albeit in an unoriginal though nonetheless pleasing way. The romance between Birdie and Justin in Hope Floats is a tentative yet nicely played one; it yields funny and affable results after much deliberation from Birdie after she begins to rebuild her life after licking her wounds. The easy visuals of sun dappled rivers and hued fields backs this up exceedingly well and you really can slow feeling Birdie warming up to Justin, apprehensively yet slowly letting that barrier come down. The biggest stumbling block in Hope Floats is that it sometimes stays too long on one situation, when it needs do get to the next point and could do it quite easily. That being said, the building charm and healing story more than compensate for that. A gentle selection of songs has a soothing edge that is just right for that stirring feeling Hope Floats is going for.
Sandra Bullock heads the film with a sensitive performance, gradually revealing a woman pulling her life back together after suffering immense embarrassment. Slowly, the effervescence we all love about Bullock comes out, but seeing her unaffected delivery and touching appeal in a lot of Hope Floats compliments the film very well and shows her twin talent of beings charming and convincing. It’s a quality performance that sells the sentimental nature of the film and rings pathos from it through an understated delivery that builds to a lovable unearthing from the luminous Bullock. Harry Connick, Jr is pretty impressive as the confident cowboy style guy who little by little breaks down Birdie’s blocks. The part is mainly there to be the dreamboat hunk, but Connick Jr is darn good at being amusing too. Gena Rowlands is an utter delight when playing the wildly dressed, pull yourself up by your bootstraps mother who attempts to help her daughter, in something of a roundabout and unusual way. Rowlands is thoroughly divine in the film and almost steals the show with her no cares what anyone thinks persona and amusing timing. As the young daughter of Birdie, Mae Whitman is marvellously mature and engaging, not coming off as just another child actor. Instead, she holds her own against her more experienced co-stars and positively shines as the little girl trying to understand what is going on. Michael Paré is there to play the jerk who cheated on Birdie, yet has scant little else to contribute.
Not exactly the most deep or challenging movie, but nor is it trying to be. Hope Floats goes straight for the heart and scores highly on that rating, bolstered also by a touching emotion to it. Clichéd as it is, I couldn’t help but be emotionally engaged with Hope Floats.