Hope Floats opens with a scene that's hilarious and awful. During a Jerry Springer-a-like chat show (hosted by Najimy), Birdee's `best friend' (Rosanna Arquette) reveals she and her pal's husband are in love. Birdee, who thought she'd been dragged along for a free make-over, is shell-shocked. Her daughter, who's in the studio audience, immediately bursts into tears.
Yet nothing else matches this for pace or humour. There are intermittent flashes of both, but what follows is a slowly evolving story focusing on the relationships between three female generations of a family - so Connick Jr, as the would-be love interest, hardly has a look in, and soon you realise this is a woman's picture in the old-fashioned sense. Think George Cukor directing Katherine Hepburn in the '30s.
These days it's rare to find a film that has one strong female character, let alone three. But here, at last, Bullock has a chance to flex her acting muscles, Rowlands enjoys herself as the ballsy grandma and even nine-year-old Whitman (whose CV is already top-heavy with Independence Day, When A Man Loves A Woman and The Gingerbread Man) does far more than just act the cute kid. Of course, many will dislike this for all the reasons listed above. But Whitaker, who directed Waiting To Exhale, is rapidly earning respect for making women's films that women (and, yes, even some men) want to watch.