Hope Springs (Columbia Pictures)
1 hr. 40 min.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Fernando Lara, Elizabeth Shue, Jean Smart
Directed by: David Frankel
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Romantic comedy/drama
Critic’s Rating: ** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)
Hope Springs is indeed a different kind of summertime treat that is unexpected at the movies during a carefree period that routinely features pulsating popcorn pleasers and slickly done animated features. After all, it is a daring and tricky proposition to serve up a low-key and quirky mature romantic comedy slated against the sure fire seasonal cinematic fare of battling aliens or being anointed the latest superhero of choice.
Thankfully for filmmaker David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”), Hope Springs does have the appeal of strong veteran leads in durable Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones not to mention the inclusion of ubiquitous funnyman Steve Carell. Although this slightly off-kilter narrative chronicling the marital malaise of an aging couple after three decades of marriage is not exactly what you would call stimulating box office hot property, Hope Spring still manages to be a refreshingly smart and observant comedy about the breakdown of romantic expectations.
Occasionally Hope Springs panders to the obvious pathos concerning middle-aged love at a standstill of intimacy. Still, the transparent clumsiness in reference to conjugal relations can be overlooked by the frothy performances of Streep and Jones as the married couple searching for a therapeutic solution. They are engaging to watch as a tandem on the mission the repair the hole in their hormonal engine. It is clear that grown-up relationship films are not what one would call overly fashionable or sexy in concept. But in Hope Springs the quaint spotlight pertaining to starting up the flames of passion is often cheeky and heartfelt.
Jones and Streep star as Arnold and Kay Soames, a Nebraskan couple going through the motions of a stillborn marriage. Arnold is an uptight accountant (the film uses Jones’s trademark macho stoicism effectively) whose stone-faced emotion says it all in gruffness. Kay is the neglected wife who insists that they undergo some intensive marriage counseling in Maine. Of course this kind of therapy is something totally radical-it is major sex therapy. The sad reality is that Arnold and Kay have not been sexually active in nearly five years. Infuriated and bewildered, the Soames just cannot seem to get their “groove” on. Psychologically, the carnal connection is lost and in need of finding its compass so Arnie and Kay can ditch the desperation and despair behind their non-existent sex life.
Enter Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell). Dr. Feld has the dubious task of exploring the emptiness of this 30-year marriage and the deepened frustration that prevents Arnold and Kay from discovering the raging lust that disappeared with the bath water ages ago. When Dr. Feld throws out blunt questions about the Soames’ love life and its lacking fuel, it is quite a startling revelation especially to the dismay of the hardened Arnold. And so the uncomfortable fix is in as poor Arnold and Kay are reminded about passionate drought that they are engaged in so embarrassingly.
The unthinkable position of a married couple with 30 years of marriage trapped in suggestive “homework” assignments of a naughty nature is too much for the tightly wound Arnold to tolerate. It is uneasy for Kay as well but she is a little more receptive to the “titillating tendencies” of rediscovering her untapped sexcapades. There are both amusing and awkward moments as demonstrated in this sophisticated sex comedy for oldsters.
In spirit, Hope Springs is an anatomy of disillusionment and complacency between two people that strayed off the path of emotional dependency. As parents of two adult children, Jones’s Arnold and Streep’s Kay are in need of a solid link beyond their departed offspring. Frankel’s direction is quite serviceable as he is able to convey the humor and hurt in a senior aged couple looking an excitable rescue to relive themselves of the inevitable doldrums.
As in 2008’s highly underrated Last Chance Harvey and this year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the alienation regarding love and loneliness of the heart for the demographics of the over age 50 crowd proves that there is potency for gray-haired entertainment aimed at frisky maturity. Hope Springs grants permission for the “wrinkled ones” in the movie audience to experience the same sense of liberation regarding finding one’s “mojo” while mixing tawdriness with sentimentality.
Streep, whose collaboration with Frankel in the aforementioned The Devil Wears Prada was quite memorable as a monstrous menace, brings another kind of vulnerability to the table that is poignant and percolating. As the meek Kay, Streep reinforces the distraught wife/mother looking to solidify her questionable identity and tattered soul away from the clutches of a dominating man set in his defiant ways. Jones exudes the complex confines of Arnold with grief-stricken isolation and indifference that captures the essence of wounded masculinity. Carell is interestingly toned down and insightful as the therapist administering the specialized treatment to patch up the provocative-challenged platitudes that exist in the Soames’ lackluster love life.
Hope Springs is a modest film about advanced age and amorous distance but it achieves its ambitious objective-that devilishly playing footsies through self-discovery is not only reserved for the American Pie bunch. For the AARP population, here is to putting a little bit of Hope into your step of Spring.