- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Columbia Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
ow much you enjoy “Hope Springs” will depend largely on how much you enjoy watching older people have sex. Or, more accurately, it will depend on how much you enjoy watching older people try, and fail, to have sex. There is a big difference between the two; one is amusingly clumsy, while the other is heartbreaking. “Hope Springs” is both of these things, but only one of them works in context with the characters. The other feels like a cheap stunt. One guess as to which is which.
Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for 31 years, but their marriage has been on auto-pilot for a while now. Desperate to break up the routine, Kay buys the two of them a week of intensive couples therapy in Maine with marriage counselor Dr. Feld (Steve Carell). Arnold nearly skips the trip altogether, and even after he agrees to go along, he’s not one for sharing, especially when Dr. Feld starts inquiring about their (nonexistent) sex lives. Kay and Arnold make some progress and then slide back a little, which leads Dr. Feld to take both of them out of their comfort zone. It’s a bold move…and it nearly destroys them.
There is a story here, no question, but the film suffers from the same thing that undid the 2010 rom-com “Going the Distance” in that it plays the raunchy card far too often. We’re watching a marriage failing before our eyes; should we really be laughing at their awkward attempts to reignite their passion for one another? Seems mean, doesn’t it? The premise definitely has room to get a little randy, but since most of it only exists as a means to the bitter disappointment that follows, the laughs feel dishonest and come with a dash of guilt for taking joy in the suffering of others.
Good thing, then, that the three leads turn in rock-solid performances and ground this horny little dramedy. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Tommy Lee Jones playing Arnold, as the role seems tailor-made to his trademark blend of dry wit and Cranky McCrankypants demeanor. He never actually plays his hand (which is a shame), but it’s clear that Arnold knows that he married out of his league and, terrified that Kay will wake up one day and realize this, he levels the playing field by asserting himself as the alpha and keeping her in her place. Streep’s Kay, meanwhile, is demure with a passive-aggressive streak, bending but refusing to break. It’s a bit odd a first to see Streep allow herself to be put in a corner, but she redeems Kay pretty quickly, and she is clearly having fun letting it all hang out, as it were. Carell is the true revelation here, though; he shows tremendous discipline by not once upstaging the two leads, and he gives Dr. Feld a humanity that few movie therapists have ever known.
If someone had made “Hope Springs” five years ago, odds are it would have had a completely different vibe. There would have been a sex angle for sure, but would it have involved Kay looking at experimenting with food (you read that right), or trying to blow Arnold in a movie theater (you read that right, too)? It’s as if people have lost sight of the fact that a movie can include some sex-related humor without wallowing in it. “Parenthood” had a very funny scene involving a vibrator, yet there isn’t a person alive who thinks of that movie as raunchy. Just a thought, Hollywood.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Sony’s Blu-ray release of “Hope Springs” is packed with a ton of bonus material, but none of it is very good. The audio commentary by director David Frankel is informative but not very engaging, while the making-of featurette (“An Intimate Look at Making ‘Hope Springs’”) is mostly comprised of the cast and crew patting each other on the back. Rounding out the set is an additional lovefest for Meryl Streep, interviews with Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carrell discussing their characters, a gag reel and more.