Hope Floats

The summer movie season is in full gear, and despite giant lizards and wayward comets, it’s nice to see romance flourish. However, during this period, there is no such thing as a small romantic movie. They have to be bigger than life and feature expensive box office stars if they are to compete with the testosterone temples.

With two new films, bigger isn’t necessarily better. “Hope Floats,” starring Sandra Bullock, and “The Horse Whisperer,” with Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas, are prime examples. Both films feel unnecessarily inflated, but for different reasons. “The Horse Whisperer,” based on the romantic best-seller by Nicolas Evans, is a handsome film that seems to go on forever. Clocking in at a butt-numbing 168 minutes, I could have read the book faster than director Redford and writers Eric Roth and Richard LaGravenese take to tell the story of a woman who needs a miracle to save her daughter from a lifetime of depression.

Despite the presence of Bullock and co-star Gena Rowlands, “Hope Floats” feels like a Lifetime made-for-cable movie. Steven Rogers even uses a trashy talk show as the catalyst to force the plucky heroine to pack up her daughter and head back to Texas and her eccentric mother. Even worse, both films are ready-made for female audiences who aren’t afraid to show their emotions.

Chick flicks. I don’t commonly use that term, as I find it narrow and limiting. Yet it applies to these two films that dish up a smorgasbord for females, yet have very little to offer male audience members. “The Horse Whisperer” was the first out of the gate (if you don’t count “City of Angels”) and has obviously touched a nerve with it’s intended audience.

Shot in fuzzy, warm focus, “The Horse Whisperer” is the better of the two. Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent as the distraught mother desperate for a remedy to cure her deeply depressed daughter (a fine Scarlett Johansson), who was recently involved in a horrible riding accident that left her best friend dead, and her and her horse critically injured. When Thomas seeks out Redford’s character to help cure the injured girl’s horse and hopefully the girl in turn, you just know sparks are going to fly between the two.

In “Hope Floats,” Bullock plays one of those well-tempered mothers who learns on national television that her husband and best friend are having an affair. Humiliated, Bullock picks up her precocious nine-year-old daughter (a wonderful Mae Whitman) and moves back to Texas and in with mom (Gena Rowlands) and her young nephew. It’s all warm, folksy drama as Bullock attempts to ground her life while the world spins wildly out of control.

It’s a winning performance by Bullock, who is matched equally by Rowland’s spirited mother. Harry Connick, Jr. shines as Bullock’s high school boyfriend who still holds a flame for her. There’s some whimsy and sharp lines in “Hope Floats,” but the premise is lightweight and uneventful. The cast deserve better, and director Whitaker, the actor (“Species”) turned director (“Waiting to Exhale”), should know better.

Redford, on the other hand, takes a good thing too far. “The Horse Whisperer” features stunning dialogue and performances, but after two hours, the film begins to drag. Which is a drag, because with a little tightening, “The Horse Whisperer” could have been brilliant. Instead, by going on forever, it begins to wallow in it’s own sentimentality. Based on their box office grosses, both films seem to be biding time until “The Truman Show” and “A Perfect Murder” open this week.



Sandra Bullock, Harry Connick Jr., Gena Rowlands, Mae Whitman, Rosanna Arquette, Michael Pare, Kathy Najimy in a film directed by Forest Whitaker. Rated PG-13. 116 Min.



Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, Diane Wiest, Chris Cooper in a film directed by Robert Redford. Rated PG-13. 168 Min.


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