A sincere comedy about a 31-year old marriage attempting to rekindle the flame. Hope Springs focuses on conversation, with serious and grounded counselor session talk between Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep that goes from little foamy blurts to candid outpours. Instead of broad commercial script writing, this dialogue sounds more authentically air-lifted from real therapy sessions – and that’s what builds this up into something surprising and poignant. The crucial quandary in Arnold and Kay’s marriage is they don’t touch each other anymore, and haven’t had sex in five years. Steve Carell is more benign than funny as the psychotherapist guiding this couple through one-week intensive therapy.
I smiled in recognition almost instantly. Because it is played straight, I was able to recall grandparents, aunts and uncles, heck, even my own parents who looked from time to time that affection was embarrassing and communication a dense labyrinth. Arnold is a fussbudget who can complain about a tuna melt that is $11.75 in a resort town. Kay is dutiful but also a self-doubter who worries she isn’t attractive anymore. At any age, that lack of self-esteem is a turn-off, isn’t it?
The Omaha residents take an Econolodge motel saver while out in Hope Springs, Maine, with Arnold ready for excuses to pack his bags early. The money wasted on this crap is the real grievance in the marriage, to him. And that’s the real agonizing quotient for Kay: Penny-pinching is more important than looking at her face and asking for her opinion. Carell’s Dr. Feld doesn’t push but steers this couple towards communication, and to their surprise, the two of them are half-willing to attempt a sex exercise.
Real is funny. David Frankel, who directed “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Marley & Me,” has created such a sober and staid environment that when the long-married couple attempts an illegal public sex act, their nervousness and anxiety, as well as temporal exhilaration, is all the funnier because context has been persuasively set-up. For many audiences, “Hope Springs” will be much ado about talking – or as my Indian wife says, “Older White Peoples’ Problems” – but I loved this movie for its poise and patience.
That’s right, I loved this movie. I was leaning in and listening carefully to every scene. So many other movies I can stare at the screen and not give a s#*^ what the hell I’m looking at. Yes, and there is also the aces deal with the performances. I think Streep’s subtle physical comedy, the suppressed unease and stiff mortification towards hearing about sex fantasies, is acting perfection. Jones is hardheaded, prickly and unsympathetic towards emotions, very much apprehensive to surrender his power. The characters don’t achieve any unrealistic miracles by the end, but there is joy in their small change.
121 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
ADULT COMEDY / ADULT ORIENTATION / AFTERNOON THERAPY
Film Cousins: ““Mumford” (1999); “Dan in Real Life” (2007); “Julie & Julia” (2009); It’s Complicated” (2009).