(Revised 5/13/03)







 
Film Comment (**) by James Cameron-Wilson
The best thing about Hope Springs is that Colin Firth isn’t the villain. He may play someone rather wet, smug and ridiculous, but he’s not seeking world domination. The villain of the piece, though, is English, being one Minnie Driver, who saunters into the small town of Hope, Vermont, with Machiavellian intentions. Still, it’s good to see a film set in America where the British aren’t all bad and this one is well cast.

A sort of flip side to Hugh Grant, Firth is perfect at portraying the ordinary, decent, vaguely misplaced Englishman with a back pocket full of irony. Here, he’s Colin Ware, an artist who has run off to the US to escape a traumatic break-up with his long-standing girlfriend. Shell-shocked and rudderless, he alights on the backwater of Hope in the vain optimism that it will live up to its name.

After ordering some rubbers from a shop (his first faux pas, he should’ve asked for erasers), he stumbles into The Battlefield Inn where he succumbs to the onslaught of depression and jet lag. Immediately uneasy in his new surroundings, Colin just wants to pass into a state of oblivion but becomes hostage to the good intentions of the natives. The Inn’s owner (a wonderful Mary Steenburger) sets him up with the local beauty, Mandy (Graham), a carer who will do anything to relieve her oppressive boredom. Colin’s inexperience with women sets him at a disadvantage. Surprised by his reticence, Mandy enquires, “You don’t have sex on first dates?” Colin replies, “I don’t have first dates.” Of course, Mandy’s winsome physical attributes would be hard to resist by any man and no sooner has Colin fallen for her, than the ex (Driver) turns up to re-claim him.

Hope Springs, adapted from the novel New Cardiff by Charles Webb, is mildly endearing but it fails to find a footing in reality. While watching Colin Firth in just about anything can be entertainment enough, he loses his way in a plot that feels markedly contrived. Continuity is not the film’s strong point, either, and many of its details let it down. There is some fun to be found here, but the laughs are definitely on the muted side.
 

Now magazine (3/5; a soft, warm wisp of romantic comedy)
The Englishman as a fish out of water is always worth a punt at the movies and that’s exactly what we get here, as the Englishman in question jumps out of his own pond and straight into the fire.

When bemused artist Colin (Firth) discovers his fiancée Vera (Driver) is about to marry someone else, he suffers a mini breakdown and heads for the sleepy Vermont town of Hope. Here he finds himself surrounded by eccentric characters, such as the innkeeper Fisher (Collison) and his wife (Steenburgen). These are good people with good hearts and, as Colin settles down to some self-applied therapy sketching the local townsfolk, he finds a certain amount of emotional peace. 

But his life takes a decidedly racy turn when he meets young care worker Mandy (Graham), who decides to administer her own form of therapy—in Colin’s bed. Things become even more complicated when Vera, in full bitch mode, arrives on the scene and Colin has to make a decision about where his heart really lies.

There are lots of lovely little touches, many supplied by the eccentric antics of the locals who add colour and comedy to the film. Firth has a permanent look of panic on his face, but he doesn’t glower and smoulder here like he did as Mr Darcy. His character is too wet for that. 

It’s Graham, playing a dippy hippy, who doesn’t work—she simply comes over as annoying. She’s totally upstaged by Minnie Driver, who appears on the scene like a rocket just when the plot begins to wear thin and delivers a deliciously catty performance. Driver’s always in control, even in her underwear (a scene that will make male members of the audience get all hot under the collar. I like kamagra United Kingdom). Also worth the entrance price is Oliver Platt as the pompous Mayor of Hope, who wants Colin to paint
his portrait.

The film is another light romantic comedy of the kind we’ve had plenty of this year. But, in the light of world events, why not lose yourself in something warm and cuddly?
 

Evening Standard by Alexander Walker 
If you could not getor affordHugh Grant, you should not make Hope Springs with Colin Firth. He plays Colin Ware, an English illustrator who has been jilted and is trying to mend a broken heart. 

Colin comes to the New England hamlet of Hope Springs (get it?), where everyone takes pity on him, especially Mandy (Heather Graham). Her occupation is "caregiver", but her propensities are those of a maneater. She soon has him standing in nothing but his shirt, though even here Firth looks as if the starch is still in it. But the whole film, written and directed by Mark Herman, feels like watching concrete set. Firth has trouble with the self-deprecating one-liners that Grant could have knocked off with a shake of his forelock. He is not a mobile actor - if anything, he's a stabile. In this film, people use Colin for target practice. When Vera (Minnie Driver), his ex-fiancée, shows up determined to reclaim her man, she proves a ball-breaker and chainsmoker in one. It is pretty clear who is going to win Colin—not that it's remotely interesting. Certainly not as interesting as how the newly reconfigured Minnie Driver looks. She has dieted away those chipmunk cheeks of hers, but the result gives her the alarmingly unsympathetic features of a flint axe-head. Everyone talks, talks, talks: nobody does anythingor anything much. There are two running jokes: one about Colin not wearing underpants; the other about Vera continually lighting up and getting ordered to "butt out". Are these gags intended to be anti-British or anti-American? At the sixth repetition, they are certainly anti- funny. Oliver Platt's bumptious mayor steals any scenes worth stealingnot many. 
 

Sunday Express (**) by Henry Fitzherbert
Will somebody please keep Heather Graham away from Britain's film stars? The vapid actress— Hollywood's favoured sex kitten after Boogie Nights and Austin Powers; The Spy Who Shagged Me— has a Sars-like effect on our talents.

Hope Springs is her third film in a row alongside one of our leading men and at this rate we won't have any left. In box-office bomb Killing Me Softly she was paired opposite Joseph Fiennes, playing a kinky blonde. Donald Rumsfeld and "Mrs Anthrax" would have had better chemistry. Next up was Jimi Mistry in The Guru. The movie sucked and poor old Mistry looked mystified throughout.

Now Graham goes for the bigger scalp of Colin Firth in this lame romantic comedy. Once again she plays a voracious blonde and once again a hot British talent goes stone-cold overnight. For goodness sake, keep her away from Hugh Grant. It's no laughing matter for the audience or Firth, who is bidding for solo stardom after co-starring roles in Bridget Jones's Diary and The Importance of Being Earnest. Yet opposite Graham all his virtues are vaporised. Here he is wet instead of smouldering, boyish instead of manly, dull instead of intriguing.

Firth plays a heartbroken artist, Colin, who has escaped to the small Vermont town of Hope after fiancee Vera (Minnie Driver) calls off their wedding. Here he meets Mandy (Graham), a nurse with a wild side. Graham presumably gets cast alongside Brits because her sexuality is considered an ideal foil for stuffy Englishmen. This dynamic is played out to excruciating effect. One scene has her strip naked in his hotel room—just for the fun of it because she's, like, really crazy and liberated—while an
embarrassed Colin looks on. On another occasion they go for a drive and she pulls out a bottle of liquor, glugs it like lemonade and slams Colin's foot on the accelerator. Those Yanks!

Any comedy potential in a nurse with a wild side is squandered by Graham. It is not her raunchy behaviour that is the anomaly but her career in nursing. Above all, her pairing with Firth fails because she is so vacuous. Mr Darcy and a bimbo? Not likely.

They are done few favours by the script, which is based on a novel by Charles Webb. I can only assume that in the book the relationship had some depth. Here, director and screenplay author Mark Herman resorts to that laziest of devices, the montage. The couple get it together in a few clips, leaving us none the wiser about what they see in each other.

But this is supposed to be a love triangle, so enter Vera to mess things up just when Colin is getting his life back together. The point of a love triangle, however, seems to have passed Herman by. Instead of being plunged into turmoil, Colin simply tells Vera, who wants him back, where to go—but politely, since he's a nice chap. With Colin not interested in a reunion with Vera, the plot lacks tension and has no forward momentum. The characters are in the same place at the end of the movie as they were after 10 minutes. The only difference is that Colin comes over as increasingly wet. Despite not wanting to get back with Vera, he relents everys so often and agrees to hear her out. This means we are subjected to a series of dull, talky scenes.

Yet somehow, Firth manages to emerge with his dignity intact and is still a likeable presence. Driver drifts in and out of scenes like a spare part and Graham is simply miscast. What may have seemed a dream line-up on paper has soured.
 

Daily Express (**) by Allan Hunter
Laughs? Some hope ... Some films could turn anyone into a grumpy old Victor Meldrew. This misbegotten romantic comedy, full of irritating acts and annoying characters, leaves you longing to quit the cinema with a hearty cry of "I don't believe it!". Considering the pedigree of those involved, it should have been so much better. It is based on a novel by the legendary author of The Graduate. It is directed by the man who gave us Brassed Off. It even stars Mr sodden britches himself, Colin Firth. By the way, that is s.o.d.d.e.n. britches—I'm not that irate.

Hope Springs is still a crushing disappointment and fuelled by the kind of idiotic behaviour that only ever happens in the movies. It is a great shame as events start promisingly enough. Firth, reeling from the break up of his relationship with Welsh fiancee Minnie Driver, lands up in the picturesque Vermont town of Hope Springs. Bitter and unforgiving, he only discovered that he was surplus to requirements when an invitation arrived announcing Driver's wedding to another man. It doesn't take him long to move on, especially when he finds a soulmate in local nurse Heather Graham. Then, Driver turns up,
determined to win back her man. What follows is a pretty tiresome tug of love in which the outcome hardly qualifies as a big surprise.

Part of the problem with Hope Springs is Driver's character. She is such a Welsh dragon lady it is impossible to see what the attraction was in the first place. Bitchy and terminally disagreeable, she's the kind of woman you would be glad to leave behind. Graham's character is at least sweet-natured, although she is hardly much of an improvement. A free spirit prone to unpredictable bursts of spontaneous behaviour, she likes to celebrate the sheer joy of living by stripping off and prancing
around naked. Happens all the time. What do you mean, not in your neck of the woods?

The film desperately tries to capture a flavour of the old-style Hollywood comedies that might have starred Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn but the supposedly witty banter barely raises a smile, the twists in the plot are wearily contrived and the initial strong impression soon fizzles away. This is a picture in which hope doesn't spring, it sinks.

Colin Firth fares best as the bumbling, emotionally repressed Englishman abroad. He has a deft comic timing and a dog-eared charm but there seems a real danger that he has become the actor people hire when they can't afford or obtain Hugh Grant. Driver is too strident for comfort and Graham confirms her reputation for rushing lemming-like to the poorest projects around. The real comic juice in the film is provided by the hard-working supporting cast, especially old pros Oliver Platt as the
incorrigible mayor of Hope Springs and a delightful Mary Steenburgen as giddy hotel owner Joanie. It is hard to believe that 25 years have passed since Steenburgen waltzed off with an Oscar for Melvin and Howard. Time has been kind to her and to her talent and she is just as appealing as ever. We like play in online casino Canada. If either of the leading ladies had brought as much sparkle to their performances, then we might be discussing a very different film.
 

The Mail on Sunday (2/5) by Matthew Bond
Charles Webb, who wrote The Graduate in 1962, penned a few others and then produced nothing for 25 years. He eventually broke his silence with a novel called New Cardiff about an English illustrator nursing a newly broken heart in a New England town called New Cardiff.

That name was either considered too Welsh or otherwise lacking in emotional resonance, so in the movie the town has been renamed Hope which, when a local water garden is taken into account, allows the film to be called Hope Springs. This might just seem a touch contrived were it not for the fact that Sandra Bullock made similarly structured romance called Hope Floats barely five years ago. That makes it look plain lazy.

You’ll have to be a pretty big Colin Firth fan to find much merit in this production, which has been adapted and directed by Mark Herman, who may have given us Brassed Off and Little Voice but doesn’t seem to have thought this one through. This is supposed to be a romantic comedy but having Colin Ware (Firth) discover that the cure for a broken heart is a beautiful blonde who is a good ten years his junior and takes all her clothes off on their first date isn’t romance, it’s wishful male thinking.

I kept thinking how much more interesting it would be if Ware found love in the arms of the lovely Mary Steenburgen, but then I suppose Webb could fairly claim to have got older women out of his system with The Graduate. So, alas, there is no ‘Are you trying to sedoos me, Mrs Fisher?’ moment here, condemning Steenburgen to a life behind the reception desk of the Battlefield Hotel, where she endeavours to advance the romantic cause of the sweet and eager Mandy (Heather Graham) while repelling the calculating charms of Vera (Minnie Driver), the former fiancée who arrives from England to reclaim her man.

As for the comedy, it’s a far-from-subtle, occasional-hit-but-mostly-miss affair which leaves only Oliver Platt, as Hope’s pushy mayor, able to walk away with any credit.
 

The Observer by Philip French
Hope Springs and Darkness Falls are named after the towns in which they are set, and Heart Sinks is the condition they left me in. Though based on a novel by Charles Webb, the author of The Graduate, Hope Springs is a British romantic comedy, shot in Vancouver but set in Vermont. Frazzled English portrait painter (Colin Firth impersonating Hugh Grant) seeks refuge in a small, gossipy New England town one golden-leafed autumn.

He's in flight from his brittle, chain-smoking English fiancée (Minnie Driver), and on his first day in Hope he's seduced by, then falls in love with a nurse and part-time healer (Heather Graham). Mark Herman, the writer-director of this mirthless romp, gives his actors little worth saying and little direction as they say it.
 

The Hollywood Reporter by Mark Adams
All of the elements are in place for the romantic comedy "Hope Springs": an attractive and talented cast, witty script, nice direction and glorious locations. But somehow it can't make the leap from an enjoyable light film to a movie to remember. Boxoffice looks to be moderate, but expect a longer life in the DVD/video marketplace. The film premiered at England's Bradford Film Festival and gets a U.K. release in early May.

Writer-director Mark Herman has adapted the 2001 book "New Cardiff" by Charles Webb, best remembered from his 1962 debut novel, "The Graduate." The script pretty closely follows the story of a disillusioned Englishman who heads to the picturesque New England town of Hope to start life over.

Colin Ware (played with real charm by Colin Firth) is an illustrator, recently dumped by his fiancee, Vera (Minnie Driver), who sends him an invitation to her wedding to another man. He thus arrives heartbroken and jet-lagged in this charming small American town. As a sign reads, "18,459 people live in Hope."

Joanie (Mary Steenburgen), the matchmaking landlady of the local motel, promptly introduces him to Mandy (Heather Graham), a trained "caregiver" who works at the local old folks home. Before long, she has broken through his grief and introduced a little sex into his life. Soon he is planning a series of pencil portraits of locals.

The fly in this romantic ointment comes in the form of Vera, who arrives inHope to announce the wedding invitation was just a joke to try to get Colin to commit. She wants him to return to England with her. This all, of course, leads to a heady triangle of love, jealousy and confusion with Colin forced to make a few difficult life decisions.

The early scenes of Colin arriving in Hope feel heavy-handed—uncomfortable Greyhound bus, stumbling jet lag, etc.—and Firth seems ill at ease playing more physical comedy. Later in the story, the script's wit and his impressive line delivery carries the film. Firth certainly has the charm and style to be a romantic lead, but too often here he has to be dry and sour. It is a leap of faith to ask an audience to believe he can change so dramatically.

Graham's role as Mandy allows her to be little more than a warmhearted local girl with only hints of problems from her past slipped into the script. As with many of her films, she is down to her underwear within a half-hour. While this is a very attractive proposition, her seduction of Colin feels telegraphed and clumsy.

As a contrast, Driver as vampish Vera gets to wear the designer gear and come out with an array of barbed line deliveries. Whether railing about her inability to smoke anywhere in town or verbally abusing aging golfers, Driver does a great job in showing Vera as a smart, contriving woman. She also manages to get down to her underwear as she tries to seduce Colin, proving it is not just Heather Graham territory.

Herman does a fine job but can't make the story leap from a lightweight, endearing film to a really fine romantic comedy. His direction is efficient, and he makes good use of the locations in British Columbia (nicely doubling for New England). The casting of Oliver Platt, as the town's mayor, and Steenburgen is inspired, with both bringing class and laughs to the proceedings.
 

York Evening Press by Nick Churchill
With solid work like Brassed Off, Little Voice and even Purely Belter behind him, writer-director Mark Herman would appear to be a safe pair of hands in which to entrust your cinema admission fee. But, be warned, despite the obvious cross-gender temptations of a cast headed by Colin Firth, Heather Graham and Minnie Driver—and the promised uplift of its storyline—Hope Springs is boring, predictable and terminally bland.

It opens well enough with sad-faced British artist Colin (Firth) arriving in New England to forget an old flame on an open-ended holiday in a town he picked purely because of its name. The brief encounter with the local art store proprietors suggests plenty of (unrealised) potential, as does his initial meeting with motel manager Joanie (Mary Steenburgen) and her husband Fisher (Frank Collison).

The focus starts to blur however when Joanie introduces Colin to fun-loving care-giver Mandy (Graham) who spouts New Age mumbo-jumbo, empties bottles of spirits and takes her clothes off to celebrate feeling happy. Mmm, promising, but then she inexplicably turns into the doting, simplistic, small town gal she so patently should not be. The degree of separation between Colin as heartbroken flake and Colin as reawakened free spirit is so minute we hardly notice and suddenly we're watching a half-hearted spin on the Cinderella story. By the time Vera (Driver), Colin's materialistic ex-, turns up the whole thing is a total shambles. Her arrival is supposed to complete a classically competitive love triangle, but any tension left in the story evaporates as the unbelievable transparency of Vera's manipulation is matched only by the spinelessness of Colin's responses. Not even a trademark cheery buffoon cameo from Oliver Platt can save the day as Hope Springs completes its journey to Lost Cause.
 
 

Daily Mail (Verdict: The heart sinks. Rating 0/5)
Here is yet another romantic comedy that celebrates Britain’s special relationship with America. And here’s Colin Firth as a charmingly floppy Englishman on the rebound from a supercilious bitch of an English girlfriend (Minnie Driver).

The jilted man rebuilds his injured psyche in a little town called Hope in New England, where he falls for a simple American girl (Heather Graham) who cares for aging people so obligingly that she falls into bed with him on their first date. Whereupon, naturally, his ex-fiancée comes to town and stops at nothing to win him back.

I usually have high hopes of writer-director Mark Herman, who made the watchable Brassed Off and Little Voice; but this is a throwback to his highly contrived first effort, Blame It On The Bellboy. If it contains a single truthful, realistic or moving moment, I missed it.

Colin Firth seems distraught at his own ineptitude when playing physical slapstick, then appears in a state of deep dejection about the script, and ends up giving a bad imitation of Hugh Grant flailing about in his own stateside turkey, Nine Months.

An even sadder performance is given by Minnie Driver, a lovely, talented and intelligent actress whose career choices are starting to look desperate. It’s time to be brutally frank: excessive dieting now means that her head looks too big for her body. She allows herself to go way over the top in pursuit of laughs that never come. But she’s not alone. Even normally reliable performers such as Oliver Platt (as the local mayor) and Mary Steenburgen (as a motel proprietor) resort to mugging.

Heather Graham attempts to be interestingly vivacious, but comes across instead as tediously vacuous. When the plot requires her abruptly to change character and act jealous, as though in some play by Strindberg, she is simply embarrassing. '18,459 people live in Hope’ says a placard towards the start of this film. By the end of this movie I was existing in a state of acute boredom and exasperation. Crawl through a cage of rats with waffles on your head rather than see this. 
 

Teletext (***) by Karen Hyland
Artist Colin Ware (Firth) wakes one morning to discover an invitation to his girlfriend's wedding on the neighbouring pillow. Distraught, he flees to a sleepy town called Hope, in New England, USA. There he makes plans to etch portraits of the town's eccentrics to take his mind off lost love Vera (Minnie Driver). But he is soon paired off with the over-zealous town kooky beauty (Graham). Life is peachy until Colin's ex arrives – and explains that there never was a marriage to another man. It was merely a ruse to prompt her lover into proposal ("Marry me, or I'm leaving you," might ultimately have been less drastic). What ensues is a bittersweet tale of chasing lost love and discovering new joy after heartbreak.

Based on the novel by Charles Webb, author of The Graduate, and written by Mark Hermann, of Brassed Off and Little Voice, Hope Springs has a strong pedigree.

Firth is charming as the broken-hearted protagonist, happily betraying the stiff upper lip characters he normally portrays, while Minne Driver is delightful as the spiky, upper-crust, long-term girlfriend.

The fatal flaw is the mismatched characters. It is impossible to believe that the forthright Driver would stoop to such depths to get her man to propose, not least travel across the Atlantic grovelling for his return. And sweet-natured as is, it is no more plausible that Colin could find long-term happiness with the one-tiered beauty.

Also lacking is any real character exploration. We've scarcely caught her name before Heather Graham's bored care assistant has stripped off and jumped around on the bed, and the script is achingly predictable. Is there really any question of which girl Colin will choose: snooty Brit chick, or all-American golden girl?

That said, Firth and Driver carry the film with (surprisingly) gifted comedy timing and endearing banter, the direction is gentle yet heavily considered, and the settings are undeniably glorious, with burnt-orange leaves and blue skies. An honourable mention for Mary Steenburgen's cameo role as Joanie, the matchmaking hotel owner. 

Hope Springs provides an enjoyable enough way of passing 90 minutes, if not a memorable one.
 

The Mirror by Kevin O'Sullivan
I've hated Colin Firth for many years. My last three girlfriends—and now my wife—have all been totally in love with him. And, frankly, I'm so sick of it that I've decided I want to be him. But not the Colin Firth who appears in Hope Springs, a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor funny.

Those clever people at Touchstone Pictures were quite right to spot Mr Firth's potential as a heartthrob male lead. Trust me, I know from painful personal experience that women fancy this guy far more than they do Hugh Grant. Apart from Colin's unreasonable good looks, it's the voice that kills 'em. Deep, resonant and impeccable...but also devoid of all pomposity.

As his legendary turn as Darcy in TV's classic Pride And Prejudice series amply demonstrated, Firth has the added advantage of being a superb actor. Mark my words, given the right film this British superstar-in-the-making is going to take Hollywood by storm. Unfortunately, Hope Springs—as dire as it is derivative—is not going to do it for him. No cliché is knowingly avoided in this abysmal attempt to cash in on a genre that, when undertaken with panache, brings in box-office money like you wouldn't believe.

Here's the "story", such as it is. English artist Colin Ware (Firth) is so distraught that his fiancée has decided to marry another man that he hops on a plane and makes his way to the town of Hope in the American state of Vermont. He likes the name, you see. Despite his amorous misfortunes, perhaps there is still hope. And where better to find that than, er, Hope! Who wouldn't do the same thing? If anyone involved in this nonsensical dustbin of a movie is reading this review, why didn't it occur to you that the central proposition here is absurd. Within hours of arriving in Hope—which naturally turns out to be so charming that Norman Rockwell would have struggled to do it justice—the visiting Brit has persuaded the entire population to pose for his rather mundane-looking charcoal sketches. And, what a stroke of luck, the best looking girl in town, Mandy (Heather Graham) turns up in Colin's hotel room ready to heal his emotional wounds. Then she strips naked. Because, in the most innocent of ways, she loves the naturalness of shedding her clothes. Undaunted by Mandy's somewhat naive manner, Colin screws her. About 10 minutes later, this newly acquainted couple agree that they are wonderfully in love. But then disaster strikes in the shapely form of Colin's two-timing ex Vera (Minnie Driver) who, having tracked him down, arrives in Hope to destroy everyone's happiness. The whole "other man" thing was a story she'd invented to make Col jealous. Now she wants him back, so let the tug of love begin. God, give me strength. Anyway, the trouble with Vera is that she is a sophisticated Londoner who works for one of those snobbish society magazines. She also smokes like a chimney and clearly looks down on the hard-working, decent, simple Americans among whom she finds herself. Therefore we hate her. And we just love lovely Mandy - an honest little Vermont girl who has a really wonderful relationship with all the eccentric but likeable geriatrics she looks after at the local old people's home. By the time this cinematic dirge limps to its entirely predictable conclusion, poor Ms Graham is drowning in the oceans of cuteness that the producers mistakenly decided she needed.

There are a couple of OK jokes. Most of the allegedly comic moments revolve around the cultural chasm between us and our allies across the Atlantic. As scheming, self-obsessed Mayor Reed, Oliver Platt provides an oasis of humour in an otherwise laugh-free wasteland. Firth does his level best with a script that should have been put to death before the ink dried. And waddling around on five-inch stilettos while trying to prove that posh Brits are horrible, Ms Driver delivers a performance which fails to mask her understandable embarrassment.

Hope may well spring eternal. But this hopeless exercise came close to robbing me of the will to live.
 

The Sun (** ½) by Johnny Vaughan
When British artist Colin Ware (Colin Firth) gets an invitation to the wedding of his lover Vera (Minnie Driver), he is consumed by grief and jets off to a remote town in Vermont called Hope. Arriving suffering from lack of sleep, he checks into the Battefield Inn whose owner Joanie (the excellent Mary Steenburgen) looks after him and puts him in touch with local “care-giver” Mandy (Heather Graham). The two soon fall in love, Colin builds up a portfolio of local people for an exhibition back in London and, frankly, his whole future is looking very rosy. Rosy, that is, until the arrival of the glacial Vera, who tells him the wedding invitation was a stunt to get him back because she wants him to propose. Cue loads of to-ing and fro-ing, misunderstandings, proclamations of love, then separation and the inevitable marriage proposal.

There are a couple of funny moments and it’s not irritating, but for romantic comedies like this to grab you, the makers have got to get the audience rooting for the hero to overcome all obstacles and sweep his true love off her feet. The more we care, the better the rom-com ... but this never really gets you rooting for Colin. 
 

The Independent (*) by Anthony Quinn
Mark Herman, a specialist in underdog comedy (Brassed Off, Little Voice, Purely Belter), now tries his hand at romantic comedy in Hope Springs, which from its title onwards inclines you to fear the worst. Colin Firth plays an uptight portrait artist who arrives in the New England town of Hope with a bad dose of jetlag and a bruised heart: his fiancée Vera has just decided to get married to someone else. I wonder if it has ever been any other jilted lover's experience to book into a roadside hotel where the manageress (Mary Steenburgen) immediately decides to matchmake you with a sexy blonde "careworker" (Heather Graham) who within 15 minutes of arriving has shed her clothes and done a little dance for Colin? The film has been adapted from a novel by Charles Webb (who wrote The Graduate), and I can only assume that this seduction scene worked better on the page than it does on screen.

With a sinking heart one realises that Herman has simply transplanted the shortcomings of Britcomfeeble writing, a reliance on farce, an air of desperate contrivanceinto an American setting. Did he imagine that his script would undergo some wondrous alchemy in the process? I'm afraid the introduction of Minnie Driver as Colin's fiancée doesn't improve things. She arrives in a cloud of cigarette smoke to try and drag him back to Blighty (her marriage announcement was only a stratagem to "jolt him into action") but her breezy metropolitan hauteur and that curious peanut-shaped face just don't cut it with Colin any more.

I found myself feeling sorry for Driver, who by degrees has become one of the least popular actresses in the world. Taking on jobs like this won't help. As for Firth, his film career has never come close to matching his small-screen success, and that includes the pale reprise of his immortal Darcy for Bridget Jones's Diary. His natural mode is a certain lugubrious distraction, and his stiff-lipped wariness simply has no place in light comedy. Give the man his breeches and frock coat backhe's not just in the wrong country, he's in the wrong century.
 

The Telegraph by Sukhdev Sandhu
Hope springs infernal when it comes to films starring Minnie Driver. All too often she comes across like a spoiled child bawling her eyes out because she's just dropped a lollipop on the floor, a flouncy prima donna kicking up a fuss upon learning that she can't have the restaurant table she wants. How odd, then, that her latest role is in a romantic comedy, a piece of miscasting on a par with asking Daniella Westbrook to play Celia Johnson's part in a remake of Brief Encounter.

Hope Springs, directed by Marc Herman, is based on a novel by Charles Webb, writer of The Graduate, and stars Colin Firth as Colin Ware, an artist who flees England to go to Hope, Vermont, after he learns that his fiancee, Vera (Driver), is going to marry someone else. O lucky man, one might think, but he takes it all very badly and finds solace in drawing pictures of the local townsfolk.

Their eccentricity extends to their high regard for his sketches, which, like all sketches in the movies, are comically poor.

Ware, though emotionally constipated, finds that he is doted upon by Mandy, a "trained care-giver" played by Heather Graham. She likes her whisky, drives pell-mell through the local streets, and drops her clothes off within a day of meeting him. Not surprisingly, he begins to feel better. Then Vera rolls into town, turning her nose up at everybody and everything. Ware is meant to be torn between the two women, but Driver pouts and preens so melodramatically, it's hard to see why he was so upset at losing her in the first place.

It's not much of a plot, and in many ways this is not much of a film. The characterisation is as skimpy as Vera's dresses, and the clunky soundtrack features a shockingly bad cover version of 10cc's I'm Not in Love. Some of the early scenes, especially those showing Ware freshly arrived in New England, may remind us of Brassed Off, Herman's superb film about ex-miners in the throes of social and mental breakdown. Such darkness is fleeting.

And yet, despite everything, the film flickers by painlessly enough. Perhaps it's Ashley Rowe's russet photography; perhaps it's Colin Firth's pleasing drollery; maybe it's just the lovely summershine we've been enjoying these last few weeks—but Hope Springs is by no means as unwatchable as you might expect.
 

The Guardian (*) by Peter Bradshaw
A strange emotion creeps over the critic's heart on witnessing the worst film of the year. Watching this unspeakable romcom made me want to tumble off the red plush seats, curl up into a foetal ball and mew like a maltreated kitten.

Colin Firth, in dishy/unsmiling mode, plays a British artist trying to forget an unhappy love affair with Vera (Minnie Driver), so he ups and travels to a small American town, a place he's picked out because of its name: Hope.

The keynote of unbelievability and twee silliness is established right there. He begins an affair with Heather Graham who, with her gorgeous blonde loveliness is a care worker at an old folks' home. Yeah, right.

Director Mark Herman is unsure whether Heather should be a dangerous wild childso he has her chug half a bottle of brandy at the wheel of her beat-up car without ever doing anything similar ever againor an adorably innocent child of nature, like Phoebe from Friends.

She is supposed to have a touchy-feely therapeutic skill and at one stage takes all her clothes off for the pure, non-sexual joy of living, which segues into some romantic action. It is one of the most embarrassing, unconvincing scenes ever committed to celluloid.

This film is very similar to the toe-curling Nine Months with Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore, in that you can see a flash of panic behind the actors' eyes at how misjudged and plain wrong it all is. Herman, who gave us decent films like Brassed Off, Purely Belter and Little Voice, has made one that sinks like a stone.
 

Coventry news (**) by Mike Davies
The Verdict: Any good? Depends how demanding you are on your romcoms. With Colin having no interest in getting back with Vera, the film's drained of all dramatic impetus and you're left with a love triangle with just two sides that runs out of ideas mid-way.

Oliver Platt chews the scenery hilariously as the egotistical, money-grabbing mayor (though the bottled water sub-plot is barely a sketch) while Driver is on splendid quintessentially bitchy English comic form as ciggie addict Vera, milking the no-smoking running joke for all it's worth. However, Graham's got little to do but be cute while Firth seems to have wandered into a leftover Hugh Grant role by mistake, right down to the Notting Hill style postscript montage.

Adapted from a novel by Charles Webb who wrote The Graduate and directed by the guy who made Brassed Off, this slight affair falls well short of those golden moments and desperately tries to end. Sweet enough, but that's it.
 

The Scotsman (**) by Alistair Harkness
Does Heather Graham have nudity clauses written into her contracts? Within ten minutes of appearing in this British-American romcom she disrobes for a befuddled Colin Firth for no other reason than her charactera professional carer for the elderlylikes to get naked whenever she’s happy. 

Women needn’t groan though: Firth soon drops his drawers, too. He plays a British artist called Colin who’s escaped to the small Vermont town of Hope to get over the humiliation of being dumped by his fiancée Vera (Minnie Driver). There he ingratiates himself with the locals by drawing their portraits, while the kooky (and naked) charms of Mandy (Graham) help him overcome his heartache. But when Vera turns up seeking reconciliation, her presence threatens Colin’s new-found happiness. Especially when she refuses to leave. 

After the abysmal Purely Belter and Brassed Off, director Mark Herman goes the Richard Curtis route with this fluffy little effort (there’s nothing remotely resembling social realism here) and proves that romantic comedies are more difficult to pull off than they look. His pacing is the main problem. By allowing the relationship between Firth and Graham to develop too quickly, the rest of the movie is left in a strange kind of limbo, and once Driver arrives on the scene she finds herself with little else to do except smoke and be annoying. 

Luckily, Firth is appealing as a romantic lead and the film demonstrates that there’s still plenty of mileage left in his Mr Darcy/ repressed-but-smouldering Englishman routine. A couple of excellent supporting turns from seasoned pros Mary Steenburgen (as a garish motel owner) and Oliver Platt (as the egotistical town mayor) also inject proceedings with some much-needed belly laughs. 

Yet, overall, this movie is a pretty disappointing effort. Driver and Graham are seriously miscast and, coupled with a weak script, this means there’s very little, beyond their obvious physical attributes, to suggest why Firth’s character would be interested in either of them. 

The film also conforms to the predictable tropes of the genre, which on the whole is fine (critiquing a romcom for being formulaic is like complaining about the violence in a John Woo movie), but there are huge sections of the plot that make absolutely no sense. And with a film like this, the last thing you should be forced to do is question its logic.
 

The Times (one star) by Barbara Ellen
Watching Mark Herman’s Hope Springs, it comes as something of a shock to realise that this is an adaptation of New Cardiff, the long-awaited novel by Charles Webb, who gave the world The Graduate. It’s a curiously stifled affair, ostensibly a gentle romantic comedy of the Anglo-American persuasion, but everyone appears to be acting with socks stuffed in their mouths in case any real emotion or humour tries to seep out. 

In particular, Colin Firth, the leading man, spends the entire movie looking paralysed, as if he’s just been fatally bitten by the Bad Script spider, which requires him to make dry clipped remarks in an English “still cheaper than Hugh Grant” kind of way, occasionally look gooey-eyed, and very little else. As Hope Springs also requires that Firth pretend to be some kind of tortured artist he often spends scenes thoughtfully hugging a huge pad of sketch paper and a couple of charcoal pencils. Sometimes presumably because the role demands it, other times, one suspects, for comfort. 

Firth plays Colin, an English artist who has been dumped by his fiancée, Vera (Minnie Driver), and so runs away to America to start a new life in the New England town of Hope. Naturally there are a lot of mild puns regarding the name of the town Colin has chosen (the road signs bear the legend: “18,459 people live in Hope”). 

When he arrives, he is both jet-lagged and devastated, and his improbably kind landlady (Mary Steenburgen, done up like a Hallowe’en fancy-dress take on Cher meets Erin Brockovich) asks her friend, Mandy (Heather Graham), a carer for the elderly, to come around and try to heal him. 

Mandy does this by downing a bottle of whisky in one, babbling incoherently, stripping off her clothes, pulling Colin into bed and generally behaving like the kind of wild and crazy chick you get only in movies or mental institutions. The badly matched pair fall in love within about 20 seconds and Colin decides to stay on in Hope, doodling drawings of local townsfolk for some exhibition or other (Colin being one of those movie characters who never seem to need to earn any money). Then Vera appears, full of remorse, apologies and Brit bossiness and determined to get back her man. 

What is Herman (Brassed Off, Little Voice) doing making this tripe? If it was the lure of working with material from the author of The Graduate it doesn’t get him very far (unless you count the feeble little homage featuring Graham’s bent leg when she is attempting to seduce Colin). 

Hope Springs is a slight tale with a weak script, a formulaic dead-cat bounce and an ending that could make gorgonzola smell like roses. The love triangle doesn’t work very well (chemistry-wise, Firth and Graham seem allergic to each other, while Driver looks as if she’s more interested in her fags, and who can blame her?). 

What humour there is seems to come from the insinuation that Colin does not wear underwear, and Vera’s foiled attempts to light up (producing the one funny line: “You can’t smoke in this area.” “What, America?”). 

If kooky American townsfolk happen to be a weakness of yours, then there are plenty of those around too. Other than that, this is a horribly stiff, underwhelming effort that staggers from beginning to end with as much expectation of entertaining an audience as a tap dancer with his throat cut. 
 
 

Scottish Herald by Hannah McGill
Look, just because Richard Curtis can make British box office history by mismatching a bumbling American hero with an adorably free-sprited American sex object doesn't mean everyone can get away with it.

Colin Firth has no trouble at all making the protagonist suitably woolly and charming - the character is even called Colin, to clear up any potential confusion. However, his love triangle with girlish Mandy (Heather Graham) and vampy Vera (Minnie Driver) never convinces, largely because there's no real question regarding which way he should jump.

Colin has fled to Hope, Vermont, to get over his girlfriend Vera's impromptu marriage to another man. Blonde, kittenish Mandy makes him very welcome indeed, but Vera's on his trail: cigarettes, stilettoes, bad attitude and all. Neither Graham nor Driver is accomplished enough to build a good performance on bad lines; and while Firth gets better treatment from the script, a romcom hero needs more conflict than this scenario provides. Vera is just an annoying obstacle to a not particularly engaging romance;
and efforts to buoy the plot with wacky minor characters fall flat, despite the efforts of Oliver Platt and Mary Steenburgen.
 

Now (*** A soft warm wisp of romantic whimsy)
We've seen him as the dashing Mr Darcy and watched him woo Bridget Jones, but in Hope Springs we see Colin Firth, 42, as we've never seen him before—getting to grips with yoga.  No doubt his lotus position will arn him even more swooning female fans.  "You can be quietly smug about it," says Colin,
who was voted one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People, "but I've never really thought I was particularly good looking."

There are lots of lovely little touches, many supplied by the eccentric antics of the locals who add colour and comedy to the film.  Firth has a permanent look of panic on his face, but he doesn't glower and smoulder here like he did as Mr. Darcy.  His character is too wet for that.

It's Graham, playing a dippy hippy, who doesn't work—she simply comes over as annoying.  She's totally upstaged by Minnie Driver, who appears on the scene like a rocket just when the plot begins to wear thin and delivers a deliciously catty performance.  Driver's always in control, even in her underwear (a scene that will make male members of the audience get all hot under the collar).  Also worth the entrance price is Oliver Platt as the pompous Mayor of Hope, who wants Colin to paint his portrait.

The film is another light romantic comedy of the kind we've had plenty of this year.  But, in the light of world events, why not lose yourself in something warm and cuddly?
 

Sight and Sound by Demetrios Matheou (*full of spoilers*)
When Colin Ware, an English artist, finds out that his fiancée Vera is to be married to another man, he is so grief-stricken that he escapes to the New England town of Hope to recuperate. He checks into the Battlefield Inn, with the intention of distracting himself by preparing an exhibition of portraits of the townsfolk. The Inn’s manageress, Joanie, decides to match-make Colin with Mandy, a young woman who works in a rest home. The pair fall in love. Vera arrives in Hope, declaring that her marriage was a sham, designed to galvanise Colin himself onwards the altar. She wants him back.

A battle of wits follows between the three lovers, at the height of which Vera invites Colin to her hotel, disrobes and tries to seduce him. Colin resists, but when Vera’s cigarette sets off the hotel fire alarm and they flee the building, the passing Mandy sees her half-naked rival and assumes the worst. She rejects Colin.

In return for a portrait, Colin persuades the mayor to convince Vera that she is descended from the town’s founderinviting her to be its Queen of Hope in the forthcoming Cannon Ball. When Colin reveals to her that she’s been conned, Vera finally accepts that she has lost him. Nevertheless, as the festivities begin she takes her place alongside the mayor, who has become attracted to her. Mandy is tricked into meeting Colin. He proposes marriage and she accepts.

For the first 15 minutes Mark Herman’s film promises to be a romantic comedy with a refreshingly bitter bent. As the opening credit rolls, Colin Firth’s devastated artist flies, then buses from abandonment by his fiancée in London to seemingly futile emotional escape in New England. On arrival, his heartbreak is compounded by extreme jet lag and cultural displacement, largely the result of the disconcerting eccentricity of Hope’s inhabitants: the untrusting owners of the general store, with whom Firth’s character Colin Ware shares an amusingly arch conversation about stationery (“rubber” meaning something altogether different to Americans), and Joanie, the mini-skirted owner of the Battlefield Inn, who takes a worryingly personal interest in her new guest.

Throughout these scenes Firth is at his pinched-mouthed, distracted best. The actor is a specialist in aloof misery, of course, not least with his pair of Darcys (from Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary); but here he really seems to be on the edge of a precipice, his palpable gloom suggesting a bona fide account of everyday, but not insignificant, sorrow over being jilted.

Unfortunately, no sooner has the man slept off his jet lag than Hope Springs performs a disappointing volte-face. Heather Graham’s instant disrobement (Boogie Nights seems to have condemned her to nonchalant nakedness) may provide one of the more enjoyably oddball courtship scenes of recent years, but it has too immediate an effect on both Ware and the film. Ware casts off his despairand his detachmentas he launches himself into a new romance. By the time his ex Vera has arrived, dressed in high heels and a wickedly barbed London urbanity, pathos has given way to lightweight comedy. The potential for exploiting the effect of culture clash on a grieving mind is squandered: decent lines such as “Maybe in England people live in the past, but here that ain’t done much” are replaced by bedroom farce and a running joke about Vera’s smoking in the nicotine-free zone that is present-day America.

Hope Springs might seem like a good marriage of film-maker and original writer. Writer-director Mark Herman’s work is characterised by a well-balanced sense of tragi-comedy; Brassed Off, whose unemployed miners find solace in a brass band; Little Voice, in which Jane Horrock’s very large voice offers escape from a hideously humdrum life; the underrated Purely Belter, a Loachian paean to childish optimism turned sour amid northern deprivation. Charles Webb, whose novel New Cardiff Herman adapts, was responsible for The Graduate, which Mike Nichols turned into one of the most cynical of romantic comedies. But on this occasion, both novel and film opt for pleasure rather than pain, sparkling dialogue rather than insight. The results make for a film with little consistency or convictionone whose very title suggests the rote vacuity so favoured by Hollywood at the moment.


High Angle by Christy Ward (review)
A heartbroken English artist (Colin Firth) goes to America to forget about his ex-girlfriend (Minnie Driver) and immediately meets and falls in love with someone else (Heather Graham). The ex-girlfriend then turns up—alive, unfortunately. This is no detective thriller; it's a romantic comedy.

Hope Springs is a film with no characters in it. There are some bemused actors wandering around reciting their lines, the only occasional flash of emotion appearing when they inadvertently think of their agents and what they are going to do to them next time they see them. Apart from that it is a matter of grimacing their way through scenes—some supposedly funny, others presumably serious; no one seems to know. Heather Graham tries very hard, but has so little to do that she does too much, and ends up pulling goofy faces of the "Look! I'm reacting!" kind. Colin Firth and Minnie Driver are both on auto-pilot, though while Firth seems to be hating every minute of it, Driver looks mildly amused by the whole shoddy proceedings. Which is more than I can say for anyone in the audience.

Watching Hope Springs brought on an unexpected feeling of nostalgia, which I had trouble explaining until I realised it was reminding me of "Neighbours". As with that much-loved serial drama from the land of the   Christmas Day sunburn, plasterboard people are required to revel, rant and weep at the whim of a demented writer. Actions have no motivation in character but are plainly driven by plot (ho-ho! he's saying she's in England—something tells me he’ll regret that later on!) and the overwhelming sense of emotional unreality means there is nothing to make the viewer in any way sympathetic towards anyone.

On top of this, there are some bizarre blunders. Heather Graham's character (I use the term loosely) at one point drinks four mouthfuls of unidentified booze and is immediately pissed. There is only one kind of alcohol that produces this effect—non-existent alcohol. Then she decides she wants to jump around and take her clothes off. You'd think this was an excuse to show Heather Graham bouncing up and down naked, but you don't even get to see that. So what's the point of the scene?

Then there's the innkeeper couple we're supposed to like, played by Mary Steenburgen and Frank Collison, who exhibit the strange habit of having sex every time Colin Firth has sex. Why are we having sex, dear? Because Colin Firth is having sex, of course. Whoever thought this was endearing needs to be fired. Out of a cannon.

And the plot supposedly centres upon a real dilemma. The man thinks he has been rejected but it turns out his ex wants him back. So what will he do about his new girlfriend? The tiniest potential for drama exists here, but fear not—the writers have made sure to stamp it out. Heather Graham and Minnie Driver are so crudely delineated as goodie and baddie, it's glaringly obvious who he's going to go for. And we don't care anyway.

Hope Springs is based on the novel "New Cardiff" by Charles Webb, who also wrote The Graduate. I presume that director Mark Herman was uncomfortably aware of lurking in the shadow of Mike Nichols's 1967 classic and decided to confront the issue head-on, opening his feeble effort with Graduate-like scenes of a depressed man standing, as opposed to walking, on an airport travelator. The impersonation doesn't come off. Firth is no Hoffman, Herman no Nichols, and whoever did the opening track is neither a Simon nor a Garfunkel.

"Hope," wrote Alexander Pope, "springs eternal in the human breast". He also wrote that "Heaven from all creatures hides the book of fate". If this were not the case and the poet had known that he was fated to   provide the title for this film, he would have stabbed himself in the eye with his quill. 

 

Film Four
Colin Firth gets caught between Heather Graham and Minnie Driver in this slight Anglo-American romantic comedy from Mark Herman, writer-director of Brassed Off and Little Voice

Hope Springs starts with a series of shots of Colin Firth, in transit on planes and coaches, looking devastated and surly. It's a face he does well. His character, British portrait artist Colin Ware, has received a wedding invite from his fiancée inviting him to her marriage to another man. Understandably distraught, he flees. 

Ware ends up in Hope, drawn by the name of this tiny Vermont town. Ensconced in a hotel run by the eccentric Joanie (Steenburgen) and her husband, Fisher (Collison), he suddenly finds himself the recipient of the affections of Mandy (Graham), a local nurse. In a bizarre scene, she gets drunk, takes off her clothes and throws herself at him. Suddenly they're an item.

Out of his lovesick period, Colin hurls himself into drawing portraits of locals and arranging an exhibition. It's a seemingly idyllic lifestyle. Until his ex-fiancée, snooty, peremptory Vera (Driver) turns up, explains the invite was simply a joke to spur him into finally marrying and says "I'm not going back until you agree to come back with me."

Oh dear. As Joanie says to her boss-eyed, daffy husband, "Even you must have noticed that Anglo- American relations are reaching an all-time high up there in room 11." The vigourously physical Colin and Mandy are very much in love. The brusque Vera won't take no for an answer though, and the trouble starts.

It's the romantic comedy staple that the path of true love will be interrupted by lies and misunder- standings. Colin initially does a good job of fire control, but it's never that easy. Sometimes you just want to scream at the screen as the loving couple fail to communicate and the romantic perfection collapses. This formulaic dimension damages Hope Springs, because as a modest character study it's relatively sweet.

After early lurches, the plot settles into a fairly entertaining three-way problem as the wonderfully bitchy Vera—Driver plays her as a quintessentially English, horsey snob—attempts to bully Colin, and anyone else she meets (she's particularly riled by the fact she seems unable to have a cigarette in peace; it's a running joke, thus: "Sorry this is a non-smoking area." "What, America?"). The wiry Driver also provides the film's most shocking moment—when she gets her kit off. If ever there was a time to stop spending so much time in the gym, it's now Minnie.

Film Quote: "By the way, is it 'Mandy' with a 'y' or 'Mandi' with an 'i' with a little circle above it?" 
Vera (Minnie Driver) derides her blonde, ditzy foe to Colin

Verdict: There are no revelations here, and the tone of the film sits uncomfortably between stock US romantic comedy and the more wry UK equivalent, but it's passably endearing and generally gentle.
 

BBCi (3 out of 5 stars) by Neil Smith
Charles Webb remains best known for his 1962 debut novel "The Graduate", famously filmed in 1967 with Dustin Hoffman. He has not exactly been prolific since, but the proceeds from this adaptation of his 2001 book "New Cardiff"his first in 25 yearswill no doubt make his reclusive life in Brighton with bald ex-wife Fred a little bit more comfortable.

Named after the picturesque New England town in which it's set ("18,459 people live in Hope" reads a sign), "Hope Springs" tells of an English illustrator called Colin (Colin Firth) whoheartbroken at being dumped by his fiancée Vera (Minnie Driver)heads to America to start again.

Colin's matchmaking landlady Joanie (Mary Steenburgen) introduces him to "trained care-giver" Mandy (Heather Graham), who soon breaks through his English reserve with a combination of vivacity, nudity, and alcohol. But when Vera arrives requesting a reconciliation, he is forced to make a difficult decision.

It's a dilemma most warm-blooded men would kill to facehorny Heather or Minnie the Minx?and he love triangle throws up some amusing situations that compensate for the numerous lapses in logic and pacing.

Firth's character may be something of a pill to begin with, but once he lightens up he emerges as a deft and affable leading man.

It's also good to see supporting roles filled by such reliable talents as Steenburgen and Oliver Platt, a hoot as Hope's venal mayor.

All in all, a date movie that's well worth making a date with.
 

Variety by Mark Adams
All of the elements are in place for the romantic comedy "Hope Springs": an attractive and talented cast, witty script, nice direction and glorious locations.

But somehow it can't make the leap from an enjoyable light film to a movie to remember. Boxoffice looks to be moderate, but expect a longer life in the DVD/video marketplace. The film premiered at England's Bradford Film Festival and gets a U.K. release in early May.

Writer-director Mark Herman has adapted the 2001 book "New Cardiff" by Charles Webb, best remembered from his 1962 debut novel, "The Graduate." The script pretty closely follows the story of a disillusioned Englishman who heads to the picturesque New England town of Hope to start life over.

Colin Ware (played with real charm by Colin Firth) is an illustrator, recently dumped by his fiancee, Vera (Minnie Driver), who sends him an invitation to her wedding to another man. He thus arrives heartbroken and jet-lagged in this charming small American town. As a sign reads, "18,459 people live in Hope."

Joanie (Mary Steenburgen), the matchmaking landlady of the local motel, promptly introduces him to Mandy (Heather Graham), a trained "caregiver" who works at the local old folks home. Before long, she has broken through his grief and introduced a little sex into his life. Soon he is planning a series of pencil portraits of locals.

The fly in this romantic ointment comes in the form of Vera, who arrives in Hope to announce the wedding invitation was just a joke to try to get Colin to commit. She wants him to return to England with her. This all, of course, leads to a heady triangle of love, jealousy and confusion with Colin forced to make a few difficult life decisions.

The early scenes of Colin arriving in Hope feel heavy-handeduncomfortable Greyhound bus, stumbling jet lag, etc.and Firth seems ill at ease playing more physical comedy. Later in the story, the script's wit and his impressive line delivery carries the film. Firth certainly has the charm and style to be a romantic lead, but too often here he has to be dry and sour. It is a leap of faith to ask an audience to believe he can change so dramatically.

Graham's role as Mandy allows her to be little more than a warmhearted local girl with only hints of problems from her past slipped into the script. As with many of her films, she is down to her underwear within a half-hour. While this is a very attractive proposition, her seduction of Colin feels telegraphed and clumsy.

As a contrast, Driver as vampish Vera gets to wear the designer gear and come out with an array of barbed line deliveries. Whether railing about her inability to smoke anywhere in town or verbally abusing aging golfers, Driver does a great job in showing Vera as a smart, contriving woman. She also manages to get down to her underwear as she tries to seduce Colin, proving it is not just Heather Graham territory.

Herman does a fine job but can't make the story leap from a lightweight, endearing film to a really fine romantic comedy. His direction is efficient, and he makes good use of the locations in British Columbia (nicely doubling for New England). The casting of Oliver Platt, as the town's mayor, and Steenburgen is inspired, with both bringing class and laughs to the proceedings.
 
 

Variety by Derek Elley
A wannabe romantic comedy that's rather slim on both real romance and real comedy, "Hope Springs" is an innocuous time-passer which sees its name cast generating little on-screen chemistry. Based on a recent novel by "The Graduate" scribe Charles Webb, the slight story of an English artist who washes up in a small Vermont town to get over being ditched by the love of his life plays surprisingly flatly. Shot through with obvious ironies about Brit-Yank behavioral differences, but never really developing into the movie it would like to be, pic will need heavy marketing and canny placement to make much impact, though Colin Firth's brand of British sexiness should prove a hook for female auds. Preemed at the Bradford fest, northern England, in mid-March, Buena Vista goes out in the U.K. May 9, with a Stateside date still to be set.

The 2001 novel by American-born, British-based Webb was the reclusive writer's first major work in a quarter-century. Almost entirely composed of dialogue, with only minimal other detail and no descriptions of the characters themselves, the script-like book would theoretically seem the ideal work to transpose to the screen. However, what plays well on paper as a series of verbal exchanges doesn't necessarily translate to the same effect on the more concrete big screen.

Helmer-writer Mark Herman has had some success in the past with character-based, British regional comedy ("Brassed Off," "Little Voice," "Purely Belter") but here seems unable to make his cross- Atlantic cast mesh in any sparky way. It's notable that the most successful scenes are between Firth and fellow-Brit Minnie Driver, where the two seem more at ease with each other's performing rhythms.

Firth plays Colin Ware, who stops off in the small town of Hope (pop. 18,459) and goes straight to the local art-materials store to purchase pencils and sketch pads. Colin's backstory is filled in through blatantly expository dialogue with both the store's leery owners (Ken Kramer, Mary Black) and then with the gum-chewing Joanie Fisher (Mary Steenburgen), who runs the Battlefield Inn, a hostelry decorated with Revolutionary War paraphernalia.

Suffering from both jet lag and being dumped by his "half-Welsh, half-monster" fiancee, Vera, Colin passes out in his room and wakes to find himself in the tender hands of Mandy (Heather Graham), a flake who works as a "caregiver" at the local old people's home, Shining Shores. After another bout of expository dialogue, pic finally looks like it's getting into gear as the bored Mandy sets out to seduce the screwed-up Brit. 

With a strong assist from a blaring pop-rock soundtrack and a sequence in which Colin careens through town in the drunken Mandy's auto, the film initially aims for a kind of wacky humor that simply seems forced.

Pic idles along as another of the burg's outsized characters—the ambitious local mayor, played at full tilt by Oliver Platt—is intro'ed, and finally starts to find its feet (and a semblance of a plot) at the 35-minute mark as—who else?—Vera (Driver) turns up in town, determined to get Colin back.

Driver's assured, cigarette-puffing Vera, forever making jokes about Americans' demonization of smoking and subtly undercutting (in the nicest way) his growing relationship with the more naive Mandy, is the kind of class act that the picture really needs. There's an immediate chemistry between her and Firth, with each responding to the other's delivery, that's notably absent from Firth's interaction with the Yank cast, especially Graham and Steenburgen. When Driver is off-screen, pic's gears slip back into neutral.

Finale set during the town's annual Cannonball Festival springs no surprises and is strikingly light on emotional clout. Film's very tight running time of 90 minutes (including credits) raises suspicions that some drastic editing has taken place, especially in the last act, which scampers through a subplot of Vera being crowned queen of the festival as her ancestors may have been responsible for founding Hope in the first place. (The Welsh angle made more sense in the original novel, entitled "New Cardiff," after the town's name.)

After a shaky start with the physical shtick, Firth settles into the character of Colin with the kind of wry disdain he's best at, and his legions of distaff fans should be well satisfied with his acres of screen-time, even though he's hardly pushed at an acting level. Graham is largely bright and open-eyed, and has trouble making much of a character out of Mandy; Steenburgen simply goes for broke as the trashy Joanie but, like Graham, seems to be in a different movie from Firth and Driver.

Though the whole picture was shot in B.C., Ashley Rowe's widescreen lensing, suffused with russets, purples and ochres, conjures up a convincingly autumnal New England. Other tech credits are thoroughly pro, though the soundtrack's habit of slipping into deafening songs is both unsuitable to the low-key comedy and smacks of some desperation in putting some heft into the movie.


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