Movie Review: ‘Hope Gap’

Review by James Lindorf

When he was a young man, director William Nicholson’s parents divorced after nearly 30 years of marriage. Now Nicholson is in his 70’s and is revisiting that story of parting, grief, and familial obligation with his latest film Hope Gap. An intimate look at the life of Grace (Annette Bening), after learning her husband Edward (Bill Nighy) is leaving her for another woman, after 29 years of marriage. The subsequent emotional fallout traps their grown son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) between a relieved father and a depressed mother. Will Grace wallow in her despair or regain her footing and take a step down her new path? Things come to a head between Grace and Edward on March 6th, 2020.

For any family drama to be successful, it needs to have two things, great performances, and a compelling story. With the focus on three characters, instead of a large ensemble, there must be a more significant emphasis on the acting. Luckily, veteran actors, Bening and Nighy, are up to the task as the central couple. Bening’s Grace wishes her life had the passion and excitement contained within her poetry. She spends most of her days brooding, wondering why Jamie doesn’t visit or at least call more often. On her worst days, or maybe her best depending on your point of view, she can be verbally and physically abusive to Edward. After the split, she falls into a pit of depression, waiting for the love of her life to change his mind and come home. While not despicable, it is easy to see why the relationship came to an end and probably should have ended years ago.

As Edward, Nighy is withdrawn, mumbling, and ineffectual. Edward was worn down by years of living at a pace he was uncomfortable with. Suffering Grace’s outbursts when he couldn’t keep up or to express himself in a preferred manner pushes her over the edge. Instead, Edward is more comfortable with a woman who values dependability and predictability over excitement. Nighy does imbue Edward with some of his natural charms, but it is subdued and only comes out when he is with his students or Jamie. Though viewers may understand Edward’s actions, the passive way he moves through life make him a complicated character to relate to or defend.

O’Connor is good as Jamie, a young man who is much like his father while yearning to be more like his mother. However, he is overshadowed by Bening and Nighy in every scene. Nothing against the young man, but he didn’t stand a chance. His job was to act as the intermediary, to be the character the audience can connect with, not to outshine or compete with acting royalty.

With the acting in good hands, the fate of Hope Gap relies on the quality of the story, and unfortunately, it has been found wanting. The story is generic and reasonably dull when Grace and Edward go big, it barely stretches beyond where most characters start. Nicholson serving as writer and director, appears disinterested in telling his story in a way that could lead audiences to think of one of his parents as the villain. The story is thin and relies on the characters to give it shape without us knowing what they want or need to be happy. Viewers can enjoy the performances and the beautiful shots of chalky seaside cliffs. Still, pretty pictures and quirky portrayals can only fill so many gaps, and hope alone can’t manage the rest.

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