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Hope Springs (April 3/04)

Hope Springs, like so many other romantic comedies, follows the beaten path of allowing two disparate characters to get together, only to break-up in the last half hour - with a last-minute reunion just before the credits begin to roll. There's something oddly comforting about such a film, despite the fact that we know exactly where all this is going. Like a cup of hot chocolate or a bowl of chicken soup, the film delivers what it promises - no more, no less.

Based on the novel by Charles Webb - who wrote The Graduate - Hope Springs opens with a British man named Colin (Colin Firth) arriving in America to get over a particularly harsh break-up. He arrives in Hope, one of those cinematically quaint small towns where all the local residents are quirky, and checks into a nearby hotel. It's not long before he meets Mandy (Heather Graham), a free-spirit who's determined to help Colin get over his ex-girlfriend. Not surprisingly, they start seeing each other and their relationship seems just about perfect - until Vera (Minnie Driver) arrives from England.

Though it's clearly not the most original premise put on film, Hope Springs remains engaging primarily due to the charismatic performances and director Mark Herman's breezy approach to the material (he also wrote the script). It doesn't hurt that the film incorporates fish-out-of-water elements into the story, with Colin bewildered by his American surroundings. Moments of comedy arise from such moments, as Colin approaches them with a typically dry British sense of humor.

Firth effectively sheds the stuffy persona he's best known for, stepping into the shoes of a character that one can almost imagine Hugh Grant playing. Graham and Driver, as the women in Colin's life, are just as good - though the film makes it far too obvious who he's going to end up with, even if we weren't already familiar with the romantic comedy formula. Vera is a mean and rigid smoker, while Mandy is the embodiment of the phrase "girls just wanna have fun"; hmm, wonder who Colin will choose?

It's that predictability that prevents Hope Springs from being anything more than an amusing time-waster, but still, it's awfully enjoyable and should please aficionados of the genre.

out of

About the DVD: Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents Hope Springs with a sharp widescreen transfer, though extras are limited to a short (seven minutes) but enjoyable featurette on the making of the film. Disney "sneak peeks" are also included, for Calendar Girls and Raising Helen, along with promos for Hope & Faith and SOAPnet.
© David Nusair