There is certainly a level of expectation that comes with a movie when it touts the name Meryl Streep above its title. Whether the stigma that anything Streep touches will turn to gold has certainly been tested before I thought it might be put to a real challenge with her latest, Hope Springs. While the cast is stellar, along with Streep we have Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and they all have more than enough credit to promise us that something more than the typical romantic comedy might deliver. Still, it didn't seem too far fetched an idea that the movie might stumble into farcical comedy and become nothing more than a way to pass a rainy afternoon at the movies. Directed by the guy who burst onto the feature film scene with Streep by his side six years ago in  The Devil Wears Prada, David Frankel has since made a name for himself directing heartwarming tales like his huge follow-up success Marley & Me while last falls The Big Year was a disappointment in more ways than one. Frankel seems to have reconnected with his comfort zone this time around and has found a way to make not only the romantic comedy feel fresh, but in many ways re-invent the tired and broken wheel. Hope Springs looks at a relationship after thirty-one years of marriage, two kids, and a routine that has driven a solid wedge between what was no doubt once a very happy couple. This has more dramatic moments to it than you might expect given the trailers inclinations, but when the laughs do come they feel so natural and organic it is refreshing. And while it is hard to imagine either of these very famous movie stars having such a tough time with personal issues it is at the same time fascinating and comforting to know we all will deal with the same things when it comes to that mangled emotion of love.

Kay (Meryl Streep) has a hard time taking some of
the advice from her marriage counselor.  
When we first become acquainted with Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) it is clear that Kay is trying to add a little bit more spice to a marriage that has run dry of any romance and has no hint of intimacy whatsoever. Sleeping in separate rooms, Arnold barely even acknowledges that Kay is around other than to make him breakfast or dinner and set out his paper. He is a comfortable partner at a law firm and supplies her with more than enough domestic needs to keep her happy. Kay has a job at Coldwater Creek that keeps her busy during the day and when she returns home to cook dinner and wash the dishes Arnold simply takes it in stride and hits the recliner for some Golfing tips until he falls asleep. Their lives are bland, they are uneventful, and Arnold seems to feel he has done his job as a husband and father and is now just waiting for the inevitable. Kay clearly, and with good reason, has some issues with death being the only thing left to look forward to and so she decides it is time to either go big or go home. Finding solace in a book she comes across in Barnes & Noble by Dr. Bernard Feld (Carell) Kay decides to book a trip to the picture perfect town of Great Hope Springs where Dr. Feld can treat them to a week of intense couples counseling. While the stubborn Arnold is a role Jones has played countless times before he lays out the one-liners here with such charisma and perfect timing one can't help but endear themselves to his curmudgeon-like persona. Despite his hesitance to even go, Arnold gives in but his toughest challenge has yet to face him-or Kay.

Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) and Kay find their
marriage in a rut in Hope Springs.
What makes the film so enticing is its ability to not only dissect the reasons a marriage can fall into such disconnection and what caused these rifts but it examines the two very people that have made the union turn out in such a way. In the beginning we are clearly made to side with the willing and soft-spoken Kay who seems to want nothing more than the affection of her husband. As with getting to know any person past a first impression though, it slowly becomes apparent there is more to Kay then we might have initially perceived. That Arnold may not be as bad a guy as we thought and that there is more to making a relationship work than simply giving the other person what they want. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship will likely be able to relate with the issues that Kay and Arnold are going through while anyone who hasn't can certainly learn from what is being offered on film. That a film can relate on so many levels is certainly an admirable quality, but what makes this so is the up front and abrupt approach the movie takes with its subject matter. It is a very adult drama and it never panders to any specific audience. It is refreshingly honest and doesn't feel contrived in the least bit. Sure, there are some questionable music choices here and there that make the movie feel more Hallmark Channel than I would have liked, but that doesn't distract from how poignant the message of the film is.

Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) is a renowned couples therapist.
The entire film literally centers around the three actors and their progress with one another. Carell, in a supporting role that requires him to deliver zero funny is made so humble and touching by the actor it is hard to imagine any other actor could have pulled off the role with as much success. As Arnold voices his opinion of the therapist profession there will surely be a good number who agree that they do nothing but bring up more issues in order to grab more money to solve more problems. Yet as he showed in last years equally moving Crazy, Stupid, Love Carell is such a sincere presence that not for a second do we believe Dr. Feld has any kind of hidden agenda. Jones was equally as impressive playing a character he is more than accustomed to he could have phoned in a performance from a mile away, but he seems fully invested here. He is in this for the right reasons, he believes he has been the best man he could be and he wants to see that work really pay off. He gives Arnold that gravitas he deserves and when his character goes for it not only does it deliver one of the sweetest scenes in the film, but one of the most touching moments I've seen in a movie this year. Streep does what she does so good and integrates herself into the world of middle to upper class housewife in the most subtle ways. Giving her voice that higher, airy feel while whoever took on the duty for costumes here does a great job of fitting each character into their role with ease. It is easy to criticize and make fun of a film that features older actors getting it on, discussing their sex life, and generally making a fool of themselves, but with the right people it becomes something much more. A sentimental and moving look at love grown tired. One of the better films this summer has offered us.

1 comment:

  1. This was certainly a good film, but I don't think I liked it as much as you did.

    The performances were definitely all fantastic. I particularly enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones. However, I found the script to be lacking at least somewhat. Even with the great performances I found myself not really caring all that much about Kay & Arnold and their relationship. I also thought that the script relied too much on the sexual aspect of their relationship. It made it seem like they just needed one good lay and everything would've been OK. I would've liked to have seen a little bit more there. There are so many more things to a relationship than just sex.

    I also thought that this was almost too easy of a role for Steve Carell, but maybe that's just because I wanted and kinda expected more of him in the film.