Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:55 - Released 5/29/98

Harry Connick Jr., the Sinatra-style pop singer, has distinguished himself as an actor before in films like Memphis Belle (1990) and Independence Day (1996). Here he is paired with Sandra Bullock for a very romantic story about a former homecoming queen who returns home after being dumped on national TV by her high school boyfriend-husband. Connick and Bullock go well together, showing an easy sense of spontanaeity, though the plot of this tear-jerker is a little heavy-handed, and so is the directing by Forest Whitaker.

When Birdee Pruitt (Bullock) is told by her husband on a talk show that he is having an affair with her best friend, the broadcast is seen by her entire hometown of Smithville, Texas. So when she moves back home, it's not like she can escape into anonymity. She resumes contact with many old friends and acquaintances, including Justin Matisse (Connick), who always had a crush on her and still does. But far from being the gawky teenager she used to make fun of, Justin is a man now, and a skilled carpenter. In fact, Birdee finds that many of the people whom she made fun of are now successful, unlike her.

Though this would be a difficult scenario for anyone returning home in moderate disgrace, it is further complicated by the two other people in Birdee's life: her mother (Gena Rowlands), who never hesitates to tell Birdee what to do and how to be, and her young daughter Bernice (Mae Whitman), who is certain her father will return to take them home to Chicago, which she desperately misses. All are unsympathetic to Birdee's humiliation and depression.

In fact, that is the first thing I noticed about Steven Rogers's script for this story. The callousness of the people of Smithville seems a little excessive for such a situation. We are meant to understand that Birdee was overly conceited in high school; she must have burned a lot of bridges to make everyone so smug (or at the very least, indifferent) at her downfall. But Bullock plays Birdee so sweetly that it is hard to swallow. Surely in a small town like this, one would find more compassion after such a blow. As it is, the way seems perfectly paved for Justin, since he's apparently the only one in town who is the least bit sensitive.

Still, the chemistry between the two leads is there, and the soundtrack, full of sad, country-flavored tunes, helps a lot. Adequate performances are given by Rowlands and Whitman, whose acting is good for a 10-year-old in a stereotypical role. As a subplot, Bernice has her own social problems to deal with at school. Hope Floats is a run-of-the-mill romance, but fair work by all involved. ***

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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