In the movie Hope Floats, Birdie and Romona, a mother and daughter and the leading female characters, both deal with grief and loss. However they both deal with it in different way. Birdie has lost her husband to an affair and Romona’s husband is in a nursing home with Alzheimer. Of course at the end of the movie Birdie also looses her mother, Romona and must deal with her knew role as head of the family. There are five stages of grief and loss 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, 5) acceptance. They do not come in any certain order but they will all be present during grief.
Birdie and her mother Romona, certainly have issues in their relationship, but part of the reason is that they are at different stages of grief. This is a serious problem. Many people at different stages look at others involved in the process and think that they are not feeling the grief. However, they may just be at another stage in the process. At the beginning of the movie, Birdie Pruitt finds out on a daytime show that her husband is having an affair with her best friend. She does what any sane woman would do and she leaves him.
She takes her daughter, Bernice to her hometown of Smithville, Texas to escape from her husband and the humiliation. This does not exactly work because the television was a national show so everyone in Smithville had also seen the show. Birdie is in denial and that is why she thinks that all she has to do is run home and everything will be as it was before she left. She thinks that everyone will be glad to see her and that she will have the same glory as she did when she was the queen of every local dance and beauty contest. Romona too is in denial.
She thinks that her husband is communicating with her by blinking when she visits him in the nursing home. She also believes that her other daughter who has gone to California to become an actress will return home to her family and the little boy, Travis that she left behind. It is obvious to everyone else that she has left for good, but Romona does not believe that. In her mind, she cannot conceive of someone turning her back on her child. Romona’s denial is the easiest to detect but that does not mean that Birdie’s denial is not there.
Birdie becomes depressed after she can no longer deny that Bill, her husband, is not coming back and she really does not want him back. She had put everything that she had into the relationship so there was nothing left of Birdie when the relationship failed. Birdie also goes back home, but not as the homecoming, prom, and corn queen, but to those who had been jealous of her or were on the receiving end of her snobbery. She is no longer accepted as the most popular girl in town. She goes to bed for days, refusing to dress, bathe, or take care of Bernice. She does not see the purpose of living or trying to make something of herself.
It might seem silly to the outside observer, but Birdie needed to go through that stage. A divorce is not death, but it is a loss that can hurt deeply. It is not just a loss of a partner, but a way of life as well. Birdie only comes out of her depression when an admirer from her past Justin Matisse reenters her life while doing some carpentry work for her mother. She is also encouraged to leave this stage when her daughter informs her husband that she is pining away for him. Romona is not seen dealing with this stage of grief. However, the movie does show her constantly working with dead animals.
We can assume that she has always been a taxidermist, but in her later years it represents her manipulation of things. She cannot control the situations in her own life so she turns to creatures who have been alive into what she wants them to be. Dead cats become scaredy cats, and goats become dressed up people. Through them she can manipulate while in reality she has very little, if any control. The care of her husband is now out of her hands and her daughter who is going through a tragedy in her life will not accept her advice and will only criticize her job as a mother.
Therefore, her dead animals are the only area where she has complete control. Birdie feels that she can bargain her way through grief through a short relationship with Justin Matisse. He makes it clear to her from the beginning that he is interested in her and always has been. She is in completely I control of the relationship. She plays with his heart, not to be cruel, but to be in control of something in her life like one who is bargaining for an item and they know that the owner is desperate to sell. Birdie knows that Justin is in love, and she is not at first, but it makes her feel better to know that she is wanted and in charge.
She even sleeps with him when she is sure that it is the one thing that will permanently tie his heart to her. Then she wants to dismiss him as if he were an object. She finally realizes that he is the one that she will love and spend her life with him. Romona uses Justin as well. She has really good intentions to help her daughter and she knows that Justin is a good man. A good man who will love and appreciate her is exactly what Birdie needs. Romona hires him to do carpentry work that she really does not need done, she invites him to dinner, and tries to through him and Birdie together as much as she can.
She is trying to bargain him with her good works to entice him to not give up on her daughter. Romona knows that she is bargaining and yet she continues simply because she knows that it is the best thing for both of them. Not only does Birdie need a good man, but Justin needs a good woman and that her daughter is exactly that. Romona also hopes that by taking care of her grandson, Travis, her other daughter will realize that her true place is with her son and she will someday come back and retrieve him. He also needs her, and with her husband in the nursing home and Birdie in Chicago, Romona was not needed.
Travis gives her what she desperately wants and she fills the need for a mother to him. The stage of grief seen the most from Birdie is anger. In fact there is a vein of anger that runs through all of the stages. Birdie is angry enough in the beginning to leave her husband, Bill when she finds out that he is sleeping with and is in love with her best friend. She is angry with her mother for the way she parented. She is angry with herself for not being the mother that she wanted to be and she believes she should be angry with herself for not being the wife that she should have been.
Justin represents what she should have done with her life. The women of the town who are Birdie’s age, make her angry because she is faced with her actions when she was young. She is most angry with Bernice because she does not realize what all that Birdie has done for her and she actually blames Birdie for the breakup of the marriage. Romona is also angry because she cannot get Birdie to see things for the way that they really are. She knows that Bill isn’t coming back and that Justin is right for her. She has pushed Birdie to make something with her life and to see that there are important things in life like family and love.
She is not happy about the way that Birdie is treating Bernice. It is obvious that some of the problem between mother and daughter are merely a repeat of Romona and Birdie. Romona accepts her life just before she dies. She not only makes peace, but is able to help bridge the gap between Birdie and Bernice. Just before she goes to bed, Romona tucks Bernice in and tells her a story about family. In the story she makes the point that family is always there for each other and when things are rough they pull together.
She is glad that she was able to be there for her family and actually make a difference in their lives. She has shown Birdie that she was really always there for her, she has helped Bernice through what has been the worst time of her life, and she has provides a stable loving home for her grandson, Travis. She does comes to the state of acceptance and dies that same night. It was like she had made a full circle and when it was done, she leaves this earth. Birdie’s acceptance of the loss of her husband is more gradual. She too gains it in the end.
Birdie starts her phase of acceptance the night she goes to a local hangout where the town’s people go to dance. Justin Matisse shows up and ask her to dance. It all leads to the two of them having a sexual encounter and Birdie spending the night with him. Her main objective was to push the thought of Bill away, but even though she did not want it too, it was something meaningful to her. It was the first time that someone was totally focused on her and making her happy. She is scared to have that much love thrown her way so she distances herself from Justin for a while.
Romona dies after she and Birdie have made their peace. Birdie is now the one in charge of the family and it is her job to hold things together. Bill comes back to the funeral and afterward at the Calvert home, he ask Birdie for a divorce. It is then that Birdie completely realizes that she has accepted that she is over him. She knows that even if he were to change his mind, she would not want him back. The way that Bill rejects Bernice solidifies this acceptance and Birdie realizes that she is better off with Bill out of her life. Her acceptance left her open to Justin’s love.
She is now satisfied to love Justin, be a good mother to Bernice, and good daughter to her father, and to be the mother that Travis needs. Hope Floats is a movie of moving beyond grief and accepting all the joys that life has for an individual. Birdie and Romona have both traveled down a rough road in life, but they have more than survived. They come to the point where they realize that life is much more than just a relationship and that loss is simply a part of life. As the title states, hope has to be allowed to float to the top.