“Hope” for romantic comedies for the retirement crowd


Courtesy of ABC News.

New Streep film is both delightful and insightful

Courtesy of ABC News.

Kay and Arnold (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for 31 years. After raising kids, their lives have become mundane and predictable. Arnold is an accountant and Kay works in a clothing store. She makes him the same breakfast every morning, in the same arrangement on a plate. Every evening, he falls asleep watching the golf channel. But, at night, Kay and Arnold sleep in separate rooms, they have for a long time.

With the hope of reviving her marriage, Kay books a trip to Hope Springs for her and Arnold to attend an intense week of couples counseling with Dr. Feld (Steve Carell). Arnold begrudgingly accompanies Kay, and it soon appears that if the week does not fix their marriage, it will surely end it.

“Hope Springs” completely caught me off guard. The ad materials for this film – mostly pictures of Streep looking shy and girlish – made the film looks simple, sappy and precious. It is none of those things.

Instead, “Hope Springs” has a classical feel to it. The bare scope of the film – that is to say, it is mostly three people in one setting – allows for the actors to flex their acting muscles and flesh out their characters.

This is an actor’s showcase, and with Streep aboard, that’s enough to give most films a pass from me. (So long as they are devoid of the muddled politics of “The Iron Lady.”) There’s nothing left really to say about the crowned queen of acting. She’s peerless, and to rave about her performance at this point seems redundant and obvious. Suffice it to say, should she ever be less than extraordinary in even the worst of films, I will be sure to let you know.

The real revelation of “Hope Springs” is Jones’s funny bone. His character and his portrayal are difficult. Arnold is vulnerable, angry, insecure, and not one for talking about his emotions. He shifts and squirms through the sessions and cannot wait to leave (and to get a refund!) But Jones never let’s Arnold be the gross stereotype of the mid-western middle-aged man that the script sometimes threatens. In the hands of a lesser actor, this film might have sunken with him. We should not be surprised, at the point, that Jones had this performance in him. He continues to surprise audiences with subtle range from “The Fugitive,” to the deadpan comedy of “Men in Black,” to the thoughtful brooding of “No Country for Old Men.” Jones alone makes “Hope Springs” worth the watch.

But there is a little trouble in paradise. The direction of the film, while solid, is simple and obvious. The success of the sessions is measured by how far Arnold and Kay sit apart on the couch, and when the week takes a drastic turn, director David Frankel shoots the sessions from the opposite side of Carell’s chair. Staging 101. In addition, whoever complied the soundtrack for this film is either tone deaf completely or picked up the wrong mixtape on the way to work.

“Hope Springs” is warm and gentle. It’s sympathetic and has patience to spare. It’s perhaps a little lacking in ambition, as Kay has no faults at all and Dr. Feld is only an interrogative soundboard. But to nitpick these faults too closely undersells its spirit and voice.

It’s a remarkable feat that “Hope Springs” can be a mature sex comedy. Most sex comedies treat the subject with fear, and like a 15-year-old boy, where inquisition and the threat of revelation are quickly diverted by frathouse mockery.

A testament to love and commitment, “Hope Springs” is easy to love and dares you to resist its charms.