I suppose it’s hard to go wrong with a Romantic Comedy. The conventions of the genre are so firmly established, and all the archetypes etched into stone, that it takes a really bad director, bad actors, and a truly awful script to miss the mark completely. And while “Hope Springs” is nothing to write home about, one supposes that in a lot of ways it could be worst. Then again, if you expected more than what you got from the movie, methinks one doth protests too much. Why watch a Romantic Comedy at all, if not to see conventions play out? God knows they’re not much use for anything else.
The film stars Colin Firth (“What a Girl Wants”) as Colin Ware, a heartbroken British artist who finds himself in Hope, a small town in Vermont, America, after his fianc’e (Minnie Driver) dumps him for another man. In Hope, Colin finds renewed vigor when he meets the cute as a button Mandy (Heather Graham), and the two inevitably fall in love. But just as inevitably, Driver’s Vera appears in Hope to break up the happy days any way she can, but of course by movie’s end Colin will have chosen the right girl.
After all, this is a Romantic Comedy. What did you expect? Edge? Grit? Get a grip.
“Hope Springs” was directed by Englishman Mark Herman (“Brassed Off”) from a novel called “New Cardiff” by Charles Webb, who also penned the seminal Coming of Age novel “The Graduate”. It goes without saying that “Springs” is not in the class of the other movie adaptation, or even on the same campus for that matter. There is nothing here that will surprise you and in fact lead Heather Graham, prone to going naked, goes naked here once again. But since the movie is rated PG-13, we never see any actual nudity. (For those with personal interests in seeing the lovely Ms. Graham in her natural glory, I recommend the Erotic Thriller “Killing Me Softly”, a movie that has absolutely nothing to offer but Graham’s nudity.)
As with all movies about small towns, the town of Hope is filled with eccentric characters with their own little quirks and baffling personalities. The notables include Mary Steenburgen (“I Am Sam”) as the spirited manager of the hotel where Colin stays and Oliver Platt (“Lake Placid”) as the ambitious town mayor. Platt’s character has the most fun, but sadly he’s not onscreen often enough. For the most part “Springs” doesn’t do its comedy with any superlative success and there are few laughs to be found throughout the film. There are smile-worthy moments, of course, but nothing to get overly excited about.
As with the Reese Witherspoon small-town Romantic Comedy “Sweet Home Alabama”, villain Minnie Driver (“Good Will Hunting”) is actually not all that villainous. In the service of taking Colin away from Mandy, Driver’s Vera does a lot of lying and manipulating, but on the whole the character doesn’t come across as all that bad. Even her infidelity to Colin is revealed to be not all it seems. Perhaps there’s a trend here — to stay within the confines of the Romantic Comedy, but to take little detours here and there. I suppose anything’s possible.
If there’s one thing I wish “Hope Springs” did more of, it’s extend the running time and take in more of the Vermont scenery. The film was shot in just the right time and place, and the falling leaves of our east coast neighbor are, in a word, gorgeous. Unfortunately director Herman seems not to share my love of nature, thus most of Vermont’s background gets shortchanged. Also, the film feels a bit incomplete, almost as if it was too heavily chopped up to provide supposedly better pacing. Clocking in at just 85 minutes of actual running length, “Springs” really should have been longer. Not a lot longer, but enough to do justice to the town and its residents.
There is nothing about “Hope Springs” that is especially good, I’m afraid. It’s barely a middle-of-the-road movie that benefits from three attractive stars. Then again, there’s something to be said about a film that is completely lacking in mean-spiritedness, and instead exudes a rampant carefree spirit, which “Springs” does.
As the saying goes, take it for what you will.
Mark Herman (director) / Mark Herman (screenplay), Charles Webb (novel)
CAST: Colin Firth …. Colin Ware
Heather Graham …. Mandy
Minnie Driver …. Vera
Oliver Platt …. Doug Reed
Frank Collison …. Fisher
Mary Steenburgen …. Joanie Fisher