Hope Springs Review
by Laurie Coker
Meryl Streep can do no wrong. Even in badly scripted films, she prefects her characters and embodies each and every one impeccably. In her current film, Hope Springs, co-starring Tommy Lee Jones, she gives us a character like no other she’s done before, and Jones, too, plays a man outside of his norm They, along with Steve Carrel, are amazing! Directed by the Devil Wears Prada’s David Frankel, Hope Springs is a refreshing dramatic and comedic take on long-time marriage and the rut into which couples can fall. With a small but exceptional cast, Frankel delivers a touching, sometimes painful look into relationships for those of us over the hump of middle age and in marriages that have advanced beyond just comfortable and into stagnancy.
After thirty one years of marriage, Arnold (Jones) and Kay (Streep) live like familiar strangers – sharing the house, but not bedrooms, eating meals (she cooks, he eats) with little conversation and generally avoiding physical contact. Kay does, awkwardly and embarrassingly, attempt to spice up the marriage and Arnold sadly plays ignorant. He, a tax accountant, is grumpy, complains often and avoids contact and confrontation. Kay, desperate to reconnect, signs them up for intensive couples counseling with Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell) a noted relationship therapist, who Arnold regards as a charlatan. They do, up against Arnold’s avid protests, begin the effort to rekindle their spark-less relationship.
While watching Hope Springs, I often reflected my own relationships and because of my age, connected to its characters. Frankel’s film feels a great deal like watching a stage play. The sets are small and personal (Kay and Arnold’s house, hotel rooms, a café, and Dr. Feld’s office) affording us an intimate connection to his characters. Streep’s Kay is demure, sensitive, shy and yet, determined to save her marriage, going against the man, to whom she catered her entire life. Jones is truly at his best, perfect really, as a man satisfied with a stale existence, actually believing that his life is fine, normal even. Arnold verbally fights whole-heartedly against counseling, but because he obviously loves Kay, resolves himself to begrudgingly try.
No one could hope for a better cast. Carrell, playing it one-hundred percent straight, had me wanting to join Feld’s sessions. His practice promises “it’s not too late for anyone who really wants it and is willing to try” and Carell comes across as properly peaceful, empathetic and realistic in role as counselor for the troubled couple. His demeanor often annoys Arnold, but soon he has the couple attempting “exercises” to help them reconnect. These sessions, which include revelations of inner most secrets and fantasies, are both touching and heart-wrenching, made more so by the exception delivery of the actors.
If I am to note faults, and that is part of my job after all, they lie in the film’s finale and in holes in unresolved issues in the story. For the all the intensity of emotion and the long road to rekindling love facing Kay and Arnold, screenwriter Vanessa Taylor too abruptly closes her tale. Running a mere ninety-two minutes, the final scenes feel rushed, like much of what would have made it better was left on the cutting room floor – leaving a big gap between the end of Feld’s sessions and the happily ever after ending. I do give Taylor full credit for writing such multidimensional, pragmatic characters and placing them is realistically compelling circumstances.
Because of explicit sexual discussions and actions, Hope Springs earns an R-rating. Some scenes may make some squirm uncomfortably, but such is the subject matter. With a lesser cast, Hope Springs might have faltered under the weighty, touchy subject matters and the flaws I mentioned above, but with Frankel behind the camera and this cast in front, the film succeeds and pleases. I am placing a B+ in my grade book. I’d give higher had I not felt cheated out of some key transitions in the storyline.