Sandra Bullock does a wonderful job as Birdee Pruitt, a woman who has the rug pulled out from under what she thinks is her idyllic existence as a homemaker on national television when her so-called best friend, luring Birdee on a Ricki Lake-type show for what she believes is a free makeover, announces she has been having an affair with Birdee's husband, Bill. An affair he has precious little remorse about.
Humiliated and reeling, Birdee takes their daughter, Bernice, from the home she and Bill shared in Chicago and goes back home to Smithville, Texas, where Birdee sheepishly reminds her daughter she was "Queen of Corn" for three years straight. In Texas, where she was once a big fish in a small pond, Birdee hopes to lick her wounds. Once home, she reacquaints herself with her mother, Ramona, a somewhat offbeat woman played with zest by Gena Rowlands. (A classic line from her when she asks Birdee why she was on TV and Birdee answers, "I just wanted a free makeover" and Ramona responds, "Well you got one!" was superbly delivered.) She also reconnects with her nephew, Travis, being raised by his grandmother while Birdee's sister tries to make it as an actress in California. Travis acts out his abandonment issues in an odd fashion, in costumes and as various characters, which Ramona handles with equanimity, likely since she is a bit off center herself.
In the midst of Birdee's humiliation and misery comes some matchmaking by her mother when old friend - and someone who crushed on Birdee from afar when in school - Justin Matisse drops by. Justin, played by Harry Connick, Jr, is a salt-of-the-earth type architect/construction worker. He clearly still has deep-seeded feelings for Birdee, feelings she is ill equipped to handle. Bernice does not handle the entrance of Justin into their lives well, secretly hoping for her parents to reconcile.
What follows is a languid, slow-paced tale of Birdee wallowing in pity until Ramona sets her straight. When trying to find a job with almost no skills, some former classmates Birdee looked down upon waste no time in slyly rubbing her nose in it. Bullock plays a chagrined Birdee to perfection, making you feel for her and hoping she can get herself together. Along the way, a flirtation with Justin slowly turns into more, despite Birdee's continued antipathy about her marriage. Connick holds his own with Bullock, and I thought they had remarkable chemistry. One of the best scenes in the film is when Justin and Birdee dance. Connick and Bullock apparently trained with Patsy Swayze, and likely did her proud. They clearly looked like they were having a blast. The subsequent scene at the house Justin brings Birdee to, one he is building, is very romantic and gentle. Those adjectives sum up the relationship quite well.
Of course, no would-be romance would be complete without conflict, and, as mentioned, Bernice's resistance provides plenty. Mae Whitman as Bernice was compelling. She played a child of divorce achingly well, and even when acting out, you could see the hurt underneath it. The scene between her and Michael Paré was gut wrenching when Bill would not take his daughter home with him. Alas, the only flaw seems to be that Bill is shallowly characterized, the heartless guy who has no qualms about abandoning his family. But since it does happen, I can't be too harsh here.
Add in other issues, such as Birdee's father battling the heartbreak of Alzheimer's disease and Ramona's eventual fate (I won't spoil it), and I admit, it is not always a "light" movie. But the romance keeps it from being too maudlin, and the family dynamic is as real as it gets. This is not to say there is no fun. See the aforementioned dancing...as well as a sweet scene as three generations of women - Ramona, Birdee, and Bernice have a little fun with "I Can't Get Next To You."
Forest Whitaker does a credible job as director here. Overall, this movie seems to be about a woman's journey from long-time appendage to finding her own way, and it was handled deftly. Indeed, to be honest, it was about...hope. Hope for a new future, hope for a new life, and hope for new love with the one who always loved her.
The romantic in me really, truly loved it for those reasons. If you like the theme of "second chances" and romance with "the one who almost got away", I cannot recommend this movie enough. I think it is honestly among Sandra Bullock's best movies and deserved *much* more success and respect than it received!