Hope Springs

© 2012 Ray Wong

With a generic title such as Hope Springs, the movie is a small, personal project starring two of the world's most versatile and respected actors.

Kay (Meryl Streep) is a housewife who has been married to accountant Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) for 31 years. They have two grown sons and a doting daughter-in-law. Everything about this family seems ordinary and normal, except that Kay is very unhappy. Her relationship with her husband has become routine. They hardly talk anymore, and there is no intimacy between them. As Kay puts it, they are like two people bunking in the same room, except they don't even sleep in the same room.

One day, Kay decides to do something about it, simply hoping to have a real marriage again. She finds Dr. Feld (Steve Carell), a psychologist in Maine specializing in marriage counseling. Dr. Feld offers a week-long intensive counseling program for $4000. Kay pays for it with her savings, and somehow coerces Arnold (who is very reluctant, to say the least) to go with her.

At first angry at his wife's persistence, Arnold clams up and does not want to participate. He complains about everything and threatens to leave when Dr. Feld starts to question them about the intimate details of their sex life (or the lack of one). Soon, though, Arnold realizes everything isn't all right, and Kay is on the verge of leaving him. To save his marriage, Arnold decides to stick around. In the process, Kay and Arnold rediscover each other.

Fresh off an Oscar win for The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep seemingly can do no wrong. Accustomed, though, to playing strong women, Streep plays against type this time with the role of Kay, a mousy, gentle, passive and hurt housewife whose whole life revolves around her husband, who won't even glance her way during dinner. One must marvel at her subtlety and deft skills and dedication she devotes to every role she plays, and as Kay, Streep just about breaks your heart as you feel her pain and understand her dilemma -- she loves her husband dearly but she can longer live that way. It's a powerful performance and even more difficult to accomplish as the character is so introspective and timid.

Tommy Lee Jones (MIB 3) is excellent as well, playing the husband. His role is much less sympathetic -- in fact, it often comes off as the "bad guy" as he is insensitive, grumpy, cold and uncaring. Jones has the daunting job of making an unlikable character likable, and he has succeeded, at least, in making us care.

Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) plays it completely straight as Dr. Feld. It seems to be the career path that Carell is determined to follow. But the total lack of humor seems a bit disorienting. Don't get me wrong, he is very good in the role, but I think some humor could have made the role even more interesting. The rest of the solid cast includes Jean Smart (Youth in Revolt) as Kay's supportive colleague, Brett Rice (Footloose) as Arnold's colleague, Elizabeth Shue (Janie Jones) as a sympathetic bartender, and Mimi Rogers (Lucky) as an neighbor.

The screenplay by TV writer Vanessa Taylor (Game of Thrones) does seem to be somewhat slight as far as screenplays are concerned. While slight on plot, the story is more about the relationship and is most noted for its subtlety and subtexts. Through the course of the story, the characters slowly reveal their history and how things went from great to meh. The conflicts are never explosive, but the pain feels deep. Taylor explores long-term relationships from a very reserved, conventional angle -- there are no external conflicts such as extra-marital affairs, domestic violence, alcoholism, etc. Basically, it's about two people who become so familiar with each other that they drift apart over time. I applaud Taylor for tackling such a "mundane" topic in a personal and interesting way. However, I don't really like the ending, which seems to be too simplistic and predictable.

Mostly, though, it's the acting that saves the movie. Granted, Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) does a good job piecing it together. The movie does feel small and intimate. The pacing sometimes seems slow, because there really isn't that much plot. What Frankel does well is letting his actors work their magic. Of course, Streep and Jones both deliver.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Jean Smart, Ben Rappaport, Marin Ireland, Brett Rice, Elizabeth Shue, Damian Young, Mimi Rogers
Director: David Frankel
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Distributor: Columbia
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for mature thematic content involving sexuality
Running Time: 100 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 8
Production - 7

Total - 7.5 out of 10.0 


Dan O. said...

A surprisingly very heartfelt rom-com that may go for the same conventions, but makes up for it with great points about relationships and great performances from Jones and Streep. Carrell feels a bit wasted here, but I guess he wasn’t causing any harm to the final product. Nice review Ray.

Ray Wong said...