August 8, 2012
United States (English)
Directed by David Frankel
Written by Vanessa Taylor
Even though they are portraying a long-since married couple whose relationship is dwindling, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones shine in their respective roles. Interferences prevent "Hope Springs" from being the wonderful film it sometimes is.
Kay and Arnold's lives as married empty-nesters have become ingrained into routine. She makes him breakfast, they both go to work, she makes him dinner, he falls asleep on the couch watching golf, she wakes him and they retire to their separate bedrooms. Occasionally Kay (played by the incomparable Meryl Streep who wins our adoration yet again) tries to infatuate Arnold (played by Tommy Lee Jones who is so prickly these days he makes Walter Matthau seem like a fluffy puff). The guy cannot seem to get a clue, which immediately sways our sympathies to Kay's side of the court. Desperate she plans and pays for a trip to Hope Springs where Dr. Bernie Feld takes on couples for a couple's counseling boot camp!
Dr. Feld is played by Steve Carell and it is a divergent role for the man who is Michael Scott in so many of our minds. He continued to seem an odd choice for me but eventually proved his restraint. A good portion of "Hope Springs" takes place in Dr. Feld's office (pictured above) where Kay and Arnold sit on separate sides of the couch. The situation becomes most compelling as they begin answering questions about their love life and accepting assignments. The movie takes on an amusing classroom/homework dynamic. We root for the couple of over 30 years in a county where 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce. We are also naturally intrusive (as audiences are) as to what happened to this couple in the past to lead them where they are today.
Both sexes will found plenty to relate to in their own relationships or those of their parents. As the running time continues we see that Arnold is not entirely to fault here. Husband and wife have their idiosyncrasies and insecurities making this an honest look at intimacy in one relationship. You might even want to be taking notes!
One area in which I take issue with "Hope Springs" is regarding its soundtrack. Yes, you can expect the standard instrumental underscoring (though it's better called "over-scoring") in some key emotional moments, but early montages and curtain closers are set to alternative tunes that feel more obtrusive than anything.
Let it be known that what we have here is largely a comedy. Streep's humor often comes in the form of that iconic and irresistible smile which manifests itself in two ways: up-to-something or got-my-something. For Jones it usually appears in his effective crabbiness. "Hope Springs" is as much a comedy as it is a drama and both elements can be found in both leads. I always admire how some writers (Vanessa Taylor in this case) and then their deciphering actors can turn the mood on a dime.
Unfortunately, "Hope Springs" goes for laughs (crude and otherwise) far too often and keeps it from reaching its full potential: the delightful and seriously daring film about sex for our day and age. I laughed considerably, but noticed where it would have been better to hold back. A waitress in the small town is funny the first time she guesses what the couple is here for, but her joking on a second visit wears out its welcome. Another example that readily comes to mind is a sexual fantasy Arnold has harbored for years which surfaces in one of their sessions. This Hollywood product decides to end on this for its final punchline. Luckily there is a lovely and raw scene--like some that came before it-- to accompany the closing credits, so stick around for that.
CONTENT: strong sexual content and related dialogue, language (Even though I have only been amongst such ranks for a little over a month, I would only recommend this film to married couples or adults in serious relationships.)