Directed by: William Nicholson
Premise: An older couple (Annette Bening and Bill Nighy) separate after nearly three decades of marriage. The wife resists her estranged husband’s attempts to divorce her and their adult son (Josh O’Connor) is caught between them.
What Works: Hollywood films create an idealized version of life through simplified conflicts with distinct heroes and villains in which virtue is rewarded and vice is punished. Hope Gap doesn’t provide that. The movie eschews the conventions of mainstream love stories and relationship dramas to offer something more complex. Hope Gap has three complex characters who in a more conventional film could be simplistic villains or victims. Bill Nighy plays a soft spoken husband who decides to leave his wife, played by Annette Bening. The wife is tough and nags her husband but his decision to leave her for another woman hurts her and the husband never takes full responsibility for his own choices. Their son gets caught between the couple; the wife expects her son to help her try to recover the marriage and she calls out his claim of neutrality as cowardice. The filmmakers manipulate the audience’s sympathies in ways that are very skillful but not obvious. This is a story about people who are unhappy and struggle to reconcile their desires with the moral and ethical implications of fulfilling them. The filmmakers don’t offer the audience or the characters an easy way out. Instead, Hope Gap suggests that happiness may come with sacrifice and that our own happiness might cause someone else pain. That’s presented in a way that is honest without coming across cynical. This tension is reflected in the cast’s terrific performances. Bening and Nighy are convincing as a couple who have been together for a long time and the actors reflect the complexity of the story in their performances. Bening in particular impresses in the way that that she alternates between toughness and vulnerability. The film has some glib dialogue but in a way that is witty without diminishing the impact of the drama.
What Doesn’t: The nature of this film leads it away from conclusive resolutions. For the most part that is appropriate to the tone and themes of the story. However, the son’s character arc is sacrificed in the focus on the parents. The son lives on his own and his mother is concerned about his isolation. It’s hinted that there is something more going on with the son, that his solitary lifestyle is a reaction to his parent’s unhappy marriage. That aspect of the story is left incomplete.
DVD extras: None.
Bottom Line: Hope Gap is a complex domestic drama. The film has a set of nuanced performances in a story that requires the viewer to extend their empathy and think about happiness and relationships beyond the way we’re accustomed to in mainstream films.
Episode: #815 (August 30, 2020)