Hope Springs Review

Colin Firth's appeal is a bit of a mystery to me. I can't claim to be an authority on which male actors are fanciable and I'm assured that women do indeed fancy him, but with his bloke-down-the-pub looks and his grumpy demeanour, he reminds me more of a geography teacher than a movie star. Not that he isn't a good actor - he made a fine villain in Shakespeare In Love and he was well cast in Bridget Jones' Diary as Hugh Grant's dull rival who eventually emerged as Mr Right. As a romantic lead however, he just doesn't cut it. In Hope Springs he's supposed to be the object of both Heather Graham and Minnie Driver's affections, yet he comes off as such a morose and unlikeable grouch, I was scratching my head as to what either of them saw in him.

Firth plays British sketch artist Colin Ware, who arrives one grey autumn day in the small colonial town of Hope Springs in Vermont. He's travelled by plane and coach from England without a stop and he's looking very much the worse for wear. Pressed by inquisitive motel owner Joanie (Mary Steenburgen), he explains that he's come to sketch the townsfolk and, more to the point, to forget about his ex-fiancee who dumped him and let him know by inviting him to her wedding. Joanie tries to help by introducing him to flakey relaxation therapist Mandy (Heather Graham) and to everyone's surprise, not least Colin's, the mismatched pair hit it off. Soon Colin is starting to enjoy life again, his sketches are making him the toast of the town and his relationship with Mandy is blossoming into love. Then one morning there's a knock at his motel room door and there, standing outside and looking not at all happy, is his ex-fiancee Vera (Minnie Driver).

I was surprised to learn that Hope Springs is based on a novel - New Cardiff by Charles Webb, who also wrote the book which inspired The Graduate. I'd just assumed it was an original screenplay because it so strictly follows the same formula as all modern romantic comedies. All the bases touched in Two Weeks Notice, Maid In Manhattan, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days and Just Married are touched here - the odd couple, the colourful supporting cast, the complications, the break-up in the last act and, of course, the tear-jerking ending. Worse, the script persistently resorts to corny misunderstandings to drive the plot along. You know what I mean - when the guy's new girlfriend suspects he may be seeing his ex and then she just happens to see them together in their underwear... when of course there's a perfectly innocent explanation. In a teen comedy, this is forgiveable but Hope Springs is supposed to be aimed at discerning adults, who don't appreciate having their intelligence insulted.

If the ending does inspire the odd sniffle, this is entirely down to Heather Graham's performance. She's wonderful as a perky, self-styled eccentric who almost, but not quite, keeps her loneliness hidden. Graham gives the film a heart it doesn't really deserve. Minnie Driver is also on very good form as an acid-tongued debutante who hasn't been told "no" many times in her life and Oliver Platt, as the town's entrepeneurial mayor, gets big laughs in his few scenes and gives the film a little boost every time he appears. It's too bad he wasn't given more to do. Firth on the other hand is in almost every scene, looking miserable and vaguely irritated. Maybe he felt that was right for the character but it certainly isn't any fun to watch. This is, after all, supposed to be a comedy.



out of 10

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