Review: Hope Gap

Given the generic late-middle-aged divorce drama premise of the story, the various publicity campaigns for Hope Gap focus on casting. Annette Bening, apparently, seems to have some sort of dedicated fan base in Japan, since that’s what the local PR is pushing. Internationally, the money is on Josh O’Connor, who skyrocketed to global fame as Charles in the third season of The Crown in 2019. That leaves the third wheel in the central family triumvirate, Bill Nighy, who, in contrast to his co-stars, seems sorely miscast.

Nighy and Bening play Edward and Grace, a British couple of middle class erudition who are coming to the end of a 30-year marriage. Edward appears to have resigned himself to its demise long ago, and mostly suffers his wife’s withering critiques of everything he does in reserved resignation. Despite her resentments, Grace is hell bent on making the marriage work even after all this time and doesn’t seem cognizant of her effect on Edward. Eventually, the other shoe drops and Edward confronts her with the ugly truth: he is in love with another woman, and has been for several years.

Though writer-director William Nicholson knows how to stage these contentious confrontations for maximum discomfort, he fails to engage the viewer by actually probing what it is about the marriage that failed in the first place. Later in the proceedings, he brings up something about how Edward fell in love too fast when he met Grace and then was too timid to back out once he had misgivings, but by that point there are too many other questions that this explanation simply can’t answer. In the meantime we’ve been introduced to Jamie (O’Connor), the couple’s 27-year-old son who has finally moved away from this idyllic seaside town to London, where he is gamely attempting to make a life of his own. Grace insists he come to visit and act as mediator in order to convince Edward to stay, even though he is already moved in with his mistress, Angela (Sally Rogers), an unassuming homemaker-widow who was the mother of one of Edward’s high school students. 

O’Connor manages to convey Jamie’s conflicted attachments to both his parents in a dramatically compelling way, but the plot, based on a stage play also written by Nicholson, has no forward momentum. It sits there on the screen spinning its wheels until it just runs out of gas. Bening brings depth to a character that often feels tediously over-determined, but Nighy, a comedian at heart whose typecasting as a hangdog phony has made him a star, seems as miserable in the part as Edward is in the company of Grace. It’s all very perplexing given the couple’s great jobs (she’s a poetry compiler–nice work if you can get it), gorgeous house, unchallenging fiscal circumstances, and a son who is clearly an intelligent, caring individual. I resent their incompatibility. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Kino Cinema Tachikawa Takashimaya (042-512-5162).

Hope Gap home page in Japanese

photo (c) Immersiverse Limited 2018

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