Title: Hope Springs
Director: David Frankel
Screenwriter: Vanessa Taylor
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue
Screened at: Regal E-Walk, NYC, 8/2/12
Opens: August 8, 2012
Based on its marketing campaign, there’s a possibility that Columbia is not particularly trying to get the under-30 market interested in “Hope Springs.” If the youths do not attend, more’s the pity, because they might become enlightened to what their passionate relationships will turn into twenty or thirty years down the road. Or two years, if you go by what some psychologists believe to be the tenure of passion. “Naah, that won’t happen to us” is the usual retort of young people who think that dreaming day and night of their loved ones will go on forever. “That’s my parents’ generation, not us. And we certainly will never get divorced.” It’s good to be optimistic, and then again there are grounds for optimism in this movie by David Frankel, who years back put Meryl Streep to good use in “The Devil Wears Prada” as Miranda Priestly, a cynical magazine editor who would scarcely deign to look at a new hire. “Hope Springs” has the cuddle-factor utilized so well in the director’s “Marley and Me,” about a naughty and neurotic dog who, like Steve Carrell’s character in “Hope Springs” teaches a family some valuable life lessons.
In parts originally planned for James Gandolfini, Jeff Bridges and Philip Seymour Hoffman happily turned over to the present principals, “Hope Springs” looks in on Kay Soames (Meryl Streep) and Arnold Soames (Tommy Lee Jones) married for thirty-one years. He’s content. She’s unhappy. He hasn’t a clue. Though the couple sleep in separate bedrooms in their Omaha, Nebraska home (filmed in Connecticut, as is the segment taking place on coastal Maine), he is more than happy to read the paper and breakfast on one fried egg, one strip of bacon and a cup of Joe provided and perfectly timed by his wife Kay, a fitting beginning of a day that gets him off to his job as a partner in an accounting firm.
Surprised that Kay spent $4,000 of her own money to travel to Maine for couples therapy with renowned author Dr. Bernie Fields (Steve Carrell), he reluctantly joins her despite his insistence on staying put– “You-can-go-wherever-you want-but-not-with-me.” In Dr. Feld’s office, looking toward a week of individual counseling and exercises, Arnold walks out at least once, buries himself in a shell, arguing heatedly with the doc whom he calls a charlatan. Even Kay is ready to give up, go home, and accept the doc’s offer of a 50% refund in the fee.
If you’re a couple with some decades of marriage under the belt, for your $13 movie ticket you could get the benefit of the therapy. You can even admire Dr. Feld’s tweedy appearance—a rough, wool jacket, knit tie (different color each day), with the top collar unbuttoned. There is nothing in his advice that you would not have already have figured out, which is that intimacy is the sine qua non of a good marriage, and that means touching, kissing, and surprise! Sex. There is some predictable humor in Arnold and Kay’s reluctant admission that they did not get it on for years, but the doc goes to even greater lengths to put them out of their comfort zone; specifically to sit on the back row of a theater during a French movie (designed to have a sparse audience?) and have the good woman perform an intimate, though full-clothed, act on her grouchy husband as though they were still high-school seniors—who, we are told, do those sorts of things.
There are some side roles, a particularly amusing one finding bartender Karen (Elisabeth Shue) at the receiving end of Kay’s confession, who calls out to the salt-of-the-earth patrons, “How many of you have not had sex? Mike, I know you’re not getting any!”
In deference to the older folks attending the movie, “Hope Springs” is not simply Judd Apatow light, it’s Judd Apatow virtually invisible. Despite the intimations of sexual performances, the pic nailed a PG-13 rating. Tommy Lee Jones owns this movie. While Meryl Streep, plays against her “Devil Wears Prada” type with a high-pitched voice as though feeling no comfort in her own body, Jones is terrific as a curmudgeon who, with the help of close-ups from photographer Florian Ballhaus’s lenses overcomes his resistance gradually, even following the therapist’s advice to break a nose during the final credits. This is essentially a three-character movie which could survive on an off-Broadway stage and has no urgent need of the huge screens at the multiplex. Some will think it funny, even hysterical in parts, a good number will be embarrassed, even others (like me) will declare it to be quite well-acted with a script by Vanessa Taylor that is nothing more than amusing.
Rated PG-13. 100 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B