HOPE SPRINGS (2012) – The Review
Well those scamps in Sony’s movie marketing department are up to some hijinks again! They’re trying to sell HOPE SPRINGS as a zany comedy in the TV spots and theatre trailers. Oh boy, a middle-aged married couple are having bedroom problems ( I almost expected them to cue up ” You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ‘ on the soundtrack ). Aren’t they cute when they’re all flustered? And who do they meet with for advise? Why, it’s that wacky 40-year-old virgin! Let the hysterics begin! Now mind you, there’s plenty of very funny moments in HOPE, but there’s also many scenes of regret and longing that are brutally honest. And pretty sad. I’m not saying it’s a modern take on Ingmar Bergman, but it’s not the wall to wall laughfest that the ads would have you believe. It is a showcase for two terrific veteran actors working together for the first time ( let’s hope it is just the first pairing ).
HOPE SPRINGS is the story of Kay ( Meryl Streep ) and Arnold ( Tommy Lee Jones ), a couple married for 31 years. The kids are grown and have moved away, but the two still share the same modest suburban two-story house. Oh, and they have separate bedrooms now, which concerns Kay. They’ve also settled into a routine. His alarm clock gets Arnold up at 7 AM. Kay has his bacon and eggs ready when he heads down to the kitchen to eat his breakfast and read the paper ( no real conversation ), before he grabs his briefcase and trudges out the door to the accounting firm where he is a partner. She tidies up before going to work at a dress shop. He comes home about 6 PM. They eat silently. Then Arnold plops down in his big easy chair and nods off while watching the Golf Channel. She taps him awake, they head upstairs to their respective bedrooms, and the cycle begins once again. Not even their anniversary celebration can shake things up ( they gave each other a joint present : an expanded cable TV package. ” So many channels! ” ). Finally Kay decides to do something. On her lunch break she heads over to the Barnes and Noble and purchases a book on saving your marriage written by Dr. Bernard Feld ( Steve Carell ). She follows up by visiting his website. Seems the doc offers a couples consoling package at his offices in… Hope Springs, Maine ( a picture perfect seaside village ). She mentions it to Arnold, who dismisses the idea. Then Kay dips into her savings and buys the tickets. After some advise from a co-worker, Arnold relents and joins her on the flight. Can this marriage guru work wonders and rekindle the fire between these two and turn them from roommates to lovers once more?
So, this is basically the Meryl and Tommy Lee Show, and quite a show it is. Their characters jump from comedy to drama, sometimes in mid-sentence, and these screen vets are more than up to the challenge. Jones has been giving several strong supporting performances, recently in CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE FIRST AVENGER and in this Summer’s MEN IN BLACK III. Here he’s front and center expanding his ” grumpy old bear with a marshmallow center ” persona and giving us a real bruised and battered old school guy who has a tough time being tender. His comic timing is superb ( the grumbles, the rolling eyes ) as is his clumsy, but endearing, attempts to please his partner. Speaking of, Streep more than holds her own against the entertaining Mr. Jones. Her Kay may seem a fluttery ditz at times, but she’s got a steely backbone as she fights for her own happiness. This is another great role in Streep’s career resurgence of the last few years. While most actresses of her…ah-hem…experience are circling TV for a steady series gig, she’s a force at the box office. Streep literally lights up the screen when Kay starts to get through to Arnold ( those frowsy outfits and eyeglasses can’t hide her beauty ). A surprise here is the strong support from Carrell. He’s really a straight man, as he questions ( and embarrasses ) the couple ( for the bulk of the film re remains seated in his cozy office ). After seeing him play so many dim bulbs ( miss you Michael Scott! ), it’s refreshing to see him as this eloquent, intelligent professional as he exasperates Arnold with his homework assignments ( exercises and ” sexercises” ). There’s also some nice support from other familiar faces. Jean Smart ( TV’s ” Designing Women” ) is a great work buddy for Kay, and the lovely Elizabeth Shue ( more film work for her, Hollywood! ) as a sympathetic Maine bartender. One of Jones’s work pals, played by Brett Rice is very funny as he prods his bud to listen to the missus ( “…and that’s why I’m in a condo!” ). David Frankel directs the script from TV scribe Vanessa Taylor with a sure steady hand, getting the best reaction shots and line deliveries from the cast. And Connecticut is a quite lovely double for Maine. There’s laughs a plenty ( perhaps even more than the ads promise ), but there’s a solid dramatic story about how adults have to work at living ” happily ever after “. After the secret agents and super-heroes at the multiplex the last few weeks, it’s great to spend some time with some adults that may live right next door. If you’re really lucky.