Hope Floats (1998)

Review

A mostly unwatchable Sandra Bullock vehicle, Hope Floats is good for an unintentional laugh — as long as you live in a major city and you’re not offended by Hollywood screenwriters’ drive-by impressions of rural America (i.e. conversations they overheard while stopping at convenience stores for bottled water).

Bullock — who has lived in Texas and should have known better, but who can’t pick a script to save her life (or her career) — is former small-town beauty queen Birdee Pruitt. Like Bullock herself, Birdee has made bad choices — like marrying her sorry ex-husband, who dumps her on a shock TV show. So Birdee goes back home to Smithville, Texas, and moves in with her Momma (Gena Rowlands), who dispenses homespun wisdom with the aplomb of a formerly respected actress reduced to starring in an ineptly-written, soapy chick flick.

Momma is a clone of heroic Southern matriarchs in other chick flicks, but Birdee loves her, even though she stuck her with the name Birdee. Birdee (a single mom, of course) has completed the circle by naming her daughter Bernice. Most people in Texas aren’t really named Birdee, or even Bernice, but why get into the details — everything about this film is a Hollywood cliché.

Almost every scene in Hope Floats is unbelievably bathetic, from Momma’s death (Birdee hollers, ‘Momma! Don’t do this to me Momma!’) to the scene where Bernice’s no-good daddy (Michael Paré) comes back to see her. When he drives away again, the kid makes agonizing screams for what seems like ten minutes — it’s like watching footage of police torture. Why does her daddy leave her? Because Hope Floats is a chick flick and men are bad!

Of course, Hope Floats is also a romance, so there must be one man who is not all bad — quiet, inarticulate Justin Matisse (Harry Connick Jr.), who has loved Birdee since she was a little girl… back when she would walk down the street and people would turn their heads and say, ‘Look at that Birdee shine!’ Have I conveyed how bad Hope Floats is? Can I stop now?

Let’s just say that this film is about as bad as a mainstream movie can be. Meaning that the camera work is competent, and the actors are professionals and they do what they can. But the screenplay stinks like a feral hog trap (to use a Texas metaphor), and Forest Whitaker, who adequately directed the equally narcissistic Waiting to Exhale, directs this cornball crap with a cold dead hand.

‘Just give hope a chance to float up and it will,’ Birdee tells Bernice at the end of the movie. Turds float, too, a comparison you’re likely to make while watching Hope Floats. Even more aptly, bad scripts float up to the top in the cesspool of Hollywood and get made into Sandra Bullock movies. But hopefully, not forever.