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Snooze Control

Hope may float, but this movie drowns

Aah, Sandra, we still do love your expressive, bee-stung lips, your unselfconscious grace, your melt-in-your-mouth Virginia drawl, your perfectly muscular calves... don't worry about Alicia stealing away your sweetheart status yet. But why, we wonder, have you insisted on yet another hokey, disappointing film? We were, you see, kind of hoping for an impressive rebound from last year's failed Speed 2: Cruise Control --something even to help us forget In Love and War, maybe; Hope Floats falls a little short of the glory.

This movie does have a promisingly edgy start: the darkly funny and frighteningly realistic pulp talk show scene that offers the premise for the story features Kathy Najimy as the Ricki Lake-esque television Toni Post, and Rosanna Arquette as Birdee's (Bullock) Connie, who has arranged for Birdee to appear on the show (having told Birdee that she'll be receiving a free makeover). Before Birdee appears on the set, Toni asks Connie why she has chosen live TV as the venue for the true purpose of the encounter, that of letting the unsuspecting victim know that her husband and her best friend have been having an affair for over a year. Connie answers that she loves her best friend and wants her really to know how very much she values their friendship--sadly incisive commentary on the attitude that has grown up around the airing of the dirtiest of laundry that is the main source of entertainment on some daytime talk shows.

After the opening scene, however, the film shifts into a slow and syrupy gear that approaches (but does not reach) the genuinely saccharine predictability of the standard Hollywood feel-good romantic comedy. The audience travels with Birdee and her daughter Bernice (Mae Whitman) back to Birdee's home town of Smithville, Texas, which, in many ways, seems perhaps the worst place Birdee could have opted to go in her time of need. Bernice resents her mom for moving her so far away from home and dad; they move back in with Birdee's significantly less-than-comforting mother (Gena Rowlands); and she is raked over the coals by a series of former high school classmates who have managed to maintain grudges against Birdee-the-prom-queen-bitch for ten plus years. Equally mysterious is the unsolicited and (initially, at least) unwanted crush that Justin Matisse (Harry Connick, Jr;) has persisted in harboring for Birdee over the years. Memories live long in Texas, I suppose.

But despite being in as serious a state of life upheaval as she's yet experienced, Birdee is bizarrely impassive. She smiles calmly and apologetically at her former classmates' abuse, sits patiently and unresponsively as Justin .ploys various come-on tactics (a supreme act of will power--this is Harry Connick Jr., remember), and deals only intermittently with the trauma of her suddenly broken home (her healing process seems to be composed mainly of sleeping late, one marathon trip to the bar, one walk alone in the rain, and one subdued and compassionate conversation with Bill, the adulterous husband). We do want to root for Birdee, we really do--if she'd only actually do something. Perhaps Birdee's behavior is a play on the film's title (the title, and its various .plications and extrapolations, were certainly alluded to in enough other ways over the course of the movie)--just sit tight, look pretty, and eventually everything will fall into place, or, rather, rise to the surface and float. And perhaps this works for Birdee in Hope Floats; but it also allows for a fairly lackluster couple of hours' screen time.

Hope Floats, rated PG-13, 1 hour 50 minutes
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