Movie Review: Cancer or not, “Hope Springs Eternal”

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Having a thing you’re known for, an identity that makes you memorable, is everything in high school.

Captain of the cheerleading squad, Guitar Guy (wears a guitar everywhere), Drama Girl, Class Clown, Jock, Hat Girl, Class Witch, Vintage T-shirt Guy — we’ve all tried them on, trotted them out and hoped for the best.

But who’d want to be “Cancer Girl?”

Hope Gracin knows her name is “ironic.” But even if nobody at school remembers it, that’s of little consequence. They know who she is — “Cancer Girl.”

And she’s made her peace with that and hit that “acceptance” stage of death-and-dying. Hope (Mia Rose Frampton, daughter of You Know Who) isn’t wallowing in self-pity, the “Emo Teen, too ‘obv.'”

She’s not praying for a miracle. “Terminal is…terminal.” She’s “not giving up. I’m just practical.”

Hope has her BFF, Seth (Stony Blyden), her chemo buddy Sarah (Juliette Angelo), and the dreamy Boyfriend from Oz (Beau Brooks)  whom she met on her Make a Wish trip, a boy who followed her back to America to show his devotion. There’s her Vlog — the video diary where she tells her story to the online world. (EVERY teenage girl has one of those. In the movies, at least.) — which gives her purpose. 

And she has her identity — Cancer Girl.”

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“Hope Springs Eternal” is a dark comedy about what happens when she loses that. Because if Miss Most Popular  (Lauren Giraldo) doesn’t have that ice-breaker to start a conversation, what Hope is there?

“You talking to me?”

“Is there anybody ELSE dying in art class?”

She’s interested in adding Hope to her entourage, and really interested in “Cute Exchange Student from Australia” (Hope’s beau).

“Can I have him when you’re done?”

The rest of Miss Pop’s entourage are quick to make room for Hope.

“You’re the girl in ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ only REAL!”

“Hope Springs Eternal” is a 78 minute movie peppered with funny lines and promising comic situations, many feeling under-developed thanks to that brisk running time.

There’s the guidance counselor, Mr. G (Pej Vahdat), who warns that she’s flunking every class and wishes she’d “apply yourself more.” Hope is always ready to trot out “My note from a doctor…for life!” in such situations.

“Why, because…you know.”

“There’s Hope’s mom (Beth Lacke), organized for battle — hand sanitizer always at the ready, keeping her girl safe, never giving up “Hope.” 

She’s the one who flips out when Hope’s doctor uses the word “remission.” She’s sending thank-you notes to every teacher and administrator (Tim Kazurinsky) at school for how supportive they’ve been.

But Hope intercepts those, even as she’s heading off her “saintly” boyfriend’s plans to pepper the city with Obama-style posters of “Hope,” “So that people will remember you, you know, after you’re dead.”

That’s why Hope isn’t ready to give up what makes her special. You can’t just take away a teen’s entire identity, just like that. It has her pondering the existential.

“Is it better to die popular (Popular Zoe is throwing her a party), or live as a loser?”

Not the sort of thing you can share with your chemo buddy Sarah. Hope has that movie version of “eye makeup cancer,” as in she’s totally healthy looking aside from her sickly eye shadow. But Sarah is pale, wan, her head wrapped in a scarf to cover the chemo-baldness.

Sarah isn’t still in high school. Too sick. Sarah needs her chemo buddy more each day. And Sarah is put out that Hope kept this a secret, is hiding it from everybody and is reacting to this joyous news like a bratty teenager.

Angelo gives the character pathos and genuine hurt. And Frampton tosses off Hope’s rejoinder, the perfect expression of teen thoughtlessness and cruelty in just three words.

You’re just…jealous!”

“Hope Springs Eternal” could use more genuinely poignant moments like that, more madcap “cover up my cure” hijinx, more of a lot of things. It’s got an intensely likable star, just enough funny supporting players and a big idea that’s a winner.

But it’s hard to send up “The Fault in Our Stars” and do it comic justice and give an achingly sad situation its due in just 78 minutes. Whatever the script offered, director Jack C. Newell (“Open Tables”) should have demanded more. The picture’s so short they stick a musical sing along over the closing credits.

With “Hope Springs Eternal,” the comic instincts are there, the novelty of the premise is a winner, but you can’t help thinking that it’s a promise that’s only half-kept.

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MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material and some language

Cast: Mia Rose Frampton, Stony BlydenJuliette Angelo , Beth Lacke, Lauren Giraldo, Pej Vahdat, Tim Kazurinsky

Credits:Directed by Jack C. Newell, script by . A Samuel Goldwyn  release.

Running time: 1:18

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