Film Review: Hope Springs with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones

19 Aug

Meryl Streep in Hope Springs

Meryl Streep is, as always, wonderful in this new film by director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada).  Streep (The Iron Lady, Julie & Julia) plays meek housewife Kay, who is desperate to re-energize her amicable but sexually dead marriage with some much-needed intimacy.  However, the real highlight of Hope Springs is Tommy Lee Jones (No Country For Old Men, Men in Black) as Arnold, her cranky grouch of a husband who every night falls asleep in his recliner watching the Golf Channel.  As Kay sees it, it’s like being “married to ESPN”.

Exasperated and wanting “a real marriage again,” Kay books a week with Dr. Feld (Steve Carell), a famous couples counselor in Great Hope Springs, Maine.  Arnold accompanies her grudgingly as the two travel to the little resort town.  Unrelentingly, hilariously practical, Arnold spends most of his time complaining about the price of food at the touristy restaurants.  Unfortunately, the trailer seems to leave out most of the best moments of Jones’ character.
As they commence their sessions with the good doctor, Kay worries that instead of a married couple they’ve become “like two workers who bunk in the same room . . . except we’re not in the same room.”  As the foil for her wide-eyed, sweet temper, Arnold’s ornery mockery of the whole proceedings likely mirrors the feelings of anyone who has been dragged to couples counseling against his will.   When Dr. Feld asks, “What does marriage mean to you?” and Jones yells, “It means we have a marriage license and I pay all the bills!” you realize that this is truly a role that allows Jones’ comedic skill to shine in all its crotchety, cussed glory.

On the other hand, Steve Carell (The OfficeLittle Miss Sunshine) is in a non-comedic role, and that’s interesting, but knowing what Carell can do, it’s a little disappointing.  In one scene, he looks so staid in his cardigan sweater and speaks in such a gentle tone that in the midst of their discussions about sensuality, you could swear you’re watching some dirty version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Carell plays the role perfectly, but the part just doesn’t give him enough opportunity to display his talents.

The film’s main flaw is a certain predictability with regard to plot.  It’s a classic rom-com storyline, even if it does uniquely expand that storyline to include characters who are in their sixties.  Still, the film’s cast and dialogue elevate it to a much higher level. Watching Streep and Jones create these characters is like attending a master acting class — the way Streep uses her eyes and hands, the way Jones hunches his shoulders and scrunches his nose.  Added to these performances is the film’s spirited, funny dialogue, written by Vanessa Taylor, which mercifully avoids overbearing romantic cheesiness and focuses instead on drawing laughs.  Because of these elements, Hope Springs is much more entertaining than its basic narrative might imply.

Final Verdict:  Hope Springs is a bit formulaic with regard to plot, but not so much that it impedes enjoyment of the film, which is made truly special by engaging, sharp dialogue performed to absolute comedic perfection by Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep.

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