“Hope Springs” directed by David Frankel

By on December 25, 2012
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film iconDan Walker on Film

 

 

 

Hope Springs (2012)

Director:  Richard Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me)

Main Cast:

Meryl Streep, (The Iron Lady, Julia and Julie, The French Lieutenant’s Woman)

Tommy Lee Jones, (Lincoln, The Fugitive, Men in Black)

Steve Carell (The 40 year Old Virgin, Date Night, Little Miss Sunshine)

Running Time: 121 minutes

hope1Despite what the trailers suggest, this movie is not a romantic comedy, although there are moments that make you laugh.  Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) are in the 31st year of a marriage that has become monotonous, joyless and lacking in intimacy and open/honest communication.  It’s a relationship where anniversary presents are household appliances.  Kay sees a TV commercial for a one-week counseling session to help rejuvenate marriages.  Clearly at a point where she’s desperate to improve her life and their marriage, Kay — without prior approval from Arnold (a penny-watching partner in a CPA firm) – pre-pays for the $4000 week of counseling.  Jones sees no benefit in it and refuses to go, then shows up at the last-minute on Streep’s plane giving her the hope she so badly.

The couple arrives in the quaint town of Great Hope Springs, VT, where Arnold sees only a place trying to milk them for every cent they can.  Arnold is predictably suspicious and skeptical of Dr. Feld (Carell cast against type) who, little by little, gets the couple to open up about their problems.  At the root of things is the sex they haven’t had with each other for the last five years. Each blames the other for their current predicament.

Hope2I felt as awkward during the sessions which are full of accusations and resentments – and watching the couple follow up on the lessons Carell assigns —  as the couple themselves.  The lessons are all about physical intimacy and escalate from simple touching to attempts to satisfy each other sexually.  It is — no surprise — difficult for Kay and Arnold to verbalize their sexual thoughts and frustrations, much less perform the lessons.  The seriousness of the sessions and awkwardness of the struggles are uncomfortable to watch because they are so realistic and so very personal.

Streep and Jones are excellent in their roles. They handle the nuances of their situations and interactions beautifully.  Carell, however, is one-dimensional and clinical, which is distracting because you keep waiting for a laugh line that never comes, though it is good to see him out of his comedy element.  Elizabeth Shue is warm and energetic in a short bar scene.

Hope3Because the trailers suggest a romantic comedy — you can’t blame the marketing people for trying to get people in the seats — a lot of people will be disappointed and put off by this film.  I enjoy well-done movies that tackle serious issues about relationships (especially long-term ones) and “Hope Springs” certainly does that.

Few things in life are as important as our intimate/closest relationships. It is not the easiest subject to bring off.  ”Hope Springs” made me think of Woody Allen’s 1992 “Husbands and Wives”, released shortly after the Soon-Yi Previn romance was made much-too public. Elements of that film mirror the main elements of ”Hope Springs.”  Judy Davis’ performance in that film is one of my all-time favorites for a female actor, maybe of any actor.  Sidney Pollock was also perfect as her husband.  Like “Hope Springs”, it had realistic, uncomfortable, angry, awkward, confrontational scenes that left me uncomfortable as I left the theater.

“Hope Springs” also has similarities to 1981′s wonderful “On Golden Pond”, similarly set in New England. In that film, Henry Fonda is as charming in his grouchiness as Jones is in “Hope Springs”. If you go into the movie knowing what to expect, I think you’ll appreciate the story, performances and lessons even more. Just don’t go expecting Sex in the City.

Merry, Merry

Dan

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