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Hope Springs
cast: Colin Firth, Heather Graham, Minnie Driver, Oliver Platt, and Mary Steenburgen

writer and director: Mark Herman

90 minutes (12) 2003
Touchstone VHS retail
Also available to buy on DVD
[released 2 February]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by John Percival
After receiving a wedding invitation from his fiancée, who appears to be marrying another man, British artist Colin Ware (Colin Firth) leaves his troubles behind and gets on a plane to America. He ends up in the small Vermont town of Hope. A very unhappy and distressed man, he finds a town full of quirky people who he plans to draw portraits of for an exhibition. Colin quickly falls in love with the free spirited nurse and trained 'care-giver' Mandy (Heather Graham). Soon he becomes a happy man again. However his fiancée Vera (Minnie Driver) appears looking for reconciliation and Colin is caught between two worlds.
   Director Mark Herman has adapted this film from the 2001 book New Cardiff by Charles Webb, who also wrote The Graduate. Herman has previously directed Brassed Off (1996) and Little Voice (1998). The story is incredibly clumsy and unconvincing in places but still manages to be a warm comedy with some good laughs. There are a number of stereotypes present but each is treated favourably, including the supposed villain of the piece Vera. Even after the cruel trick she has played and how it has backfired, it is still possible to feel happy for her at the end.
   Colin's project of drawing portraits of the townsfolk brings him in contact with many strange personalities but he seems to exert an influence over them rather than them changing him. One exception is the love interest between Colin and Mandy. It is difficult to know exactly what Mandy is as she hops from one foot to the other constantly. Is she a counsellor, alcoholic, nymphomaniac or sweet hometown girl? There are hints that she has had a troubled upbringing but this is never explored and only seems to exist to counterpoint Colin's good education, as suggested by his plumy voice. Seeing Mandy strip down to her underwear and leap around a room on only her second meeting with Colin seems contrived but Heather Graham in her underwear is never unwelcome. Later in the film Vera strips down to her underwear in an attempt to seduce Colin and get him to return to England with her, but it exists purely as a comparison of Vera's expensive lingerie and designer clothes to Mandy's comfortable cotton underwear, or the sophisticated England to picture-postcard small town America. However, cynically, it could also be a device to keep male viewers interested whilst their girlfriends, wives and partners feed off the love story.
   Colin Firth appears to have difficulty with the physical acting of a disillusioned and heavily jetlagged artist during the beginning of the film, but later on he settles into what is essentially his trademark charming but vulnerable British man. Heather Graham appears competent but confused with the lack of detail about her character, but it is Minnie Driver's performance as chain-smoking Vera that steals the show, as she delivers some great barbed lines and hilarious frustration at not being able to smoke anywhere. The supporting cast is strong, with some great work from Oliver Platt as the town's mayor and Mary Steenburgen as the hotel owner.
   This is a good enjoyable romantic comedy with an attractive cast who deliver some very witty lines, but it is too light in places to be memorable.

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