Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hope Springs

Directed by David Frankel.
2012. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Ben Rappaport
Marin Ireland
Brett Rice
Mimi Rogers
Ann Harada

Kay (Streep) has been married to Arnold (Jones) for thirty-one years. For at least the last four, every day has been exactly the same. They eat a quick breakfast before going off to their separate jobs, and a quick dinner when they return home. He then proceeds to fall asleep watching The Golf Channel while she cleans the dishes. When she’s done, she wakes him and he retires to the guest room. She sleeps in the master bedroom. Needless to say, the sparks are no longer flying. In an effort to change this, Kay makes reservations for the two to spend a week in Maine where they will see Dr. Feld (Carell), a famous marriage counselor. Even though he doesn't see anything wrong with their relationship, Arnold reluctantly goes along. By the way, he is also a grumpy penny-pincher whose favorite activity is complaining. A very tough week for the couple ensues.

The best thing that can be said about Hope Springs is that Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones really feel like two people who have been together for three plus decades. They each inhabit their characters fully and let us understand who these people are. We get to know them as thoroughly as they should know each other, but don’t. It helps that we have all known couple like this. They have been together so long, they don’t know anything else. Some of us are that couple. In them, we recognize our own hopes and fears of what marriage will be like once the nest empties.

Right away, Kay is established as the more sympathetic figure. It is easy to see that her frustrations are not only born of her husband’s cluelessness, but of his comfortableness with the way things are. For him, sleeping in separate beds and barely talking to his wife beyond greetings and salutations are merely facts of life. That’s simply the way it is. Of course she desires a deeper connection, both physically and emotionally. She just needs help communicating this. We feel her pain.

To the movie’s credit, it doesn't just attack the problem from one angle. Eventually, we get into why things have gotten this way from Arnold’s point of view. It’s fitting that it takes a good portion of the movie to get to this because he is not a guy given to expressing any feelings that make him appear vulnerable. He’s the proverbial turnip we’re trying to draw blood from. This works wonderfully as we begin to sympathize with him more and more as the film progresses.

Though billed as a rom-com, Hope Springs is much more “dramedy” than anything else. There is lots of angst, some hurt feelings and tears shed. The focus is really on this authentic feeling marriage and whether it can be fixed, not on a succession of jokes. We do get some laughs. Most of them come from Arnold’s incessant grumbling. He is our dad, or grand-dad, and nothing is ever quite good enough or cheap enough for him. Kay is our mother, or grandmother. She’s sweet as pie and struggles to keep it together when she’s upset. We love her to death, but she rarely makes us laugh. The only other character of consequence is Dr. Feld. Steve Carell plays the role surprisingly straight.

This is a movie that hits a lot of right notes and has two marvelous performances. In the end, it comes across as more lightweight than it actually is. Therefore, almost no one will rank this among the best from either actor. That’s a shame because while I don’t think this is a truly great movie, I think they are both great in it. I also fear there is probably a clear line of demarcation separating those who will enjoy it and those who will not. I’d set that line at about age thirty-five and having been in at least one long-term monogamous relationship. In other words, use another Meryl Streep vehicle, It’s Complicated, as a guide. If that’s not your cup of tea, don’t sip from this one, either.

MY SCORE: 7/10


  1. Seemed like it was going to be so hacky and corny from the trailers, but surprisingly, was a very honest, heartfelt and frank movie about spouses and sex. And well-acted, too. Nice review Wendell.

  2. I agree it was much better that I thought it was going to be going in. Thanks for reading!