Mike Nichols’ The Graduate was a great film — a classic, even — that was based on a novel by author Charles Webb. Hope Springs is also based on a novel by Webb, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this movie might be anything other than barely passable.
Colin Firth plays Colin, a British artist who arrives in the small town of Hope, Vermont after being unceremoniously dumped (or so it seems) by his fiancée, Vera (Minnie Driver). There he meets “free spirit” and part-time alcoholic Mandy (Heather Graham). Mandy’s unstable, erratic personality leads, of course, to Colin quickly falling in love with her.
But wait! Here comes Vera to confuse and tempt Colin away from the borderline-psychotic Mandy. What’s a guy to do?! Luckily, Vera is so shallow and one-dimensional that Colin’s decision is essentially made for him by the brain-dead screenplay.
And that’s a key problem here: characters behave in certain ways when the story demands it, yet in other ways totally contrary to reason if that is what’s required at the time. Colin’s romance with Mandy is sudden and quite random, for example, and all we’re given in the way of insight is a “quirky” initial meet-up and a montage with a dreadful cover of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” — this, mind you, should be a pivotal sequence, not some throwaway with a soundtrack that conveniently fades out during the lyric about the “nasty stain” on the wall.
There is not one character that isn’t incredibly aggravating in some way, and what little comedy there is feels forced and obvious, though I did maybe get one or two slight chuckles out of it despite myself. Oliver Platt somehow manages to salvage his scenes and give the audience some respite from the relentless mediocrity on display, but he’s hardly in the film, so it’s really a moot point.
The pacing, meanwhile, is glacial just by virtue of the fact that nothing of interest occurs onscreen. Not only is there nothing surprising or unique about Hope Springs, it’s not even competent as a purely cynical, by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Writer/director Mark Herman (Brassed Off, Purely Belter) really has no one to blame but himself for just how inept the film is, though the utter lack of chemistry between Firth and Graham doesn’t help matters, either.
The best I can say about Hope Springs is that I didn’t find it particularly offensive — just bland, badly made and totally uninvolving. I’d expect this quality from a cheap telemovie at most. How any of the actors were roped into this project is anyone’s guess.