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Hope Springs (A Movie Review)

Hope Springs


Starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue, Jean Smart, Ben Rappaport, Mimi Rogers, Becky Ann Baker, Brett Rice, Damian Young, Marin Ireland, Patch Darragh, Charles Techman, Daniel J. Flaherty, Ann Harada and Jack Haley.

Screenplay by Vanessa Taylor.

Directed by David Frankel.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures.  121 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

I remember when I was in high school, I visited a friend’s house and was shocked to find that his parents had separate bedrooms.  It was the first time I had ever seen – or even imagined – something like this.  I’d always believed that married couples shared a bed, no matter how strong or weak the marriage was.  That’s just the way it was.

Years later, I’ve become older and more sensible and less romantic about relationships and I can see the benefits of a married couple each having their own space.  In fact, often that may be a preferable way of doing it.  Yet, it still seems a little sad.  There is supposed to be a difference between being husband and wife and merely being housemates.

In Hope Springs, Arnold and Kay Soames (Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep) are an aging couple who have long since grown comfortable with – or at least resigned to – the idea of merely being housemates.

Arnold is a crotchety accountant for whom complaining has become a way of life.  He barely even notices that nearly every word that comes out of his mouth is negative and sometimes hurtful.  Kay is a timid and relentlessly upbeat, but easily bruised, former homemaker who suddenly realizes she doesn’t know what to do with herself now that the children are gone and her marriage has become stagnant.

A couple of years earlier Arnold moved into the guest room to recover from an injury and he never moved back when he got well.  Now he spends his nights falling asleep to the Golf Channel.  She pours what is left of her into making his bacon and eggs every morning and having a stilted conversation with the only man she has ever loved.

Passion has not so much died as become an afterthought for the couple.  He thinks she does not enjoy sex and she’s not so sure, either, though she knows that she misses the sense of intimacy and being needed.

I’ve got to say right off the bat that the fact that the trailer for this film plays up the film as a light sexual farce for people over a certain age; something along the lines of Streep’s recent film It’s Complicated.  However, Hope Springs is nothing of the sort.  Certainly there are many light and funny moments to the film, but at its core Hope Springs is a perceptive drama about a couple that has been growing apart for so long that they have forgotten how to be together.

Kay is desperate to find some meaning in her relationship and her life.  In what is perhaps her first rebellious act in years – maybe even ever – she spends $4,000 of her own money to sign them up for an intensive week-long counseling session with Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell), a doctor who had written a book on saving marriages.

Arnold naturally has no interest in going, but he finally realizes that it is something his wife needs to do, so he reluctantly flies with her to visit this strange quack his wife has just spent so much money on.  However, as is his way, he makes his discontent on this development extremely clear with every word he says and every move he makes.

Essentially, that is the whole story.  The older couple tentatively open up about themselves, emotionally and sexually, under the guidance of the benevolent doctor.  There are stops and starts on the road and nothing goes quite how either imagined, but the two attempt to regain the spark long extinguished.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Hope Springs – because, let’s face it, we all know that Meryl Streep can disappear into a character like this at will – is how strongly Tommy Lee Jones plays off her.  Jones, who let’s face it, can sometimes disappear into his hangdog irritability when playing a character, gives Arnold a surprising reservoir of pain and need below the surface of the more typical Jones mannerisms.

Streep naturally takes chances as well.  Kay is much more open, timid and desperate than Streep normally plays, but decades of experience show us that Meryl can disappear into pretty much any character she puts her mind to.  Still, Streep gives it her all and disappears into some dangerous situations.  The sight of the greatest actress of her generation, in her sixties, lying under the covers in bed and experimenting with masturbation, is rather shocking – even if it is an important step in her character’s emotional growth.

Carell is very giving – much like his character – allowing his co-stars the spotlight as his Dr. Feld comes off as smart, affable and rather low-key.

Hope Springs isn’t a perfect film.  It’s occasionally a little too talkative, occasionally too psychobabble-y and the ending seems just a hair too pat.  However, due to the three terrific performances and the type of unblinking look at senior marriage that almost never gets any exposure in Hollywood, it is a rather important film and definitely worth seeing.  The fact that it is also mostly extremely entertaining is a terrific bonus.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: August 8, 2012.

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