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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: Hope Springs

Golden Years, Copper Marriage

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: August 8, 2012 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: David Frankel
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, 
Steve Carell

"Hope Springs" is awkward, uncomfortable, and excruciating at times. But that's by design. After all, it's about old people having sex – or not having it, as the situation is for Kay and Arnold (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) at the beginning of the movie.

Kay turns to a book written by Dr. Bernard Feld – he must be Catholic – called "You Can Have the Marriage You Want." Feld (Steve Carell) is a marriage counselor who operates out of a small town in Maine called Great Hope Springs.

Desperate to save a marriage that has been robbed of all affection, Kay uses her own money to book a plane ticket for her and her husband to attend intensive couples counseling with Feld for one week. 

David Frankel, the director of "Hope Springs," spoke to Entertainment Weekly about Tommy Lee Jones's approach to the role: "I'll do anything," Jones told the director. "I'll be tough, I'll be demanding, I'll be closed up sexually, but I won't be mean."

Jones's character is certainly gruff, insensitive, and oblivious to his wife's basic needs. As a result, he can sometimes appear to be mean – but he never actually crosses the threshold into actual meanness. It's a fine line, and Jones is masterful at walking it.

Streep brings an endearing sweetness and naivety to her role as a repressed housewife who is determined to act when she reaches her own breaking point. What could have been a comedic caricature in the hands of another actress becomes a fully formed human being in Streep's capable care.

Carell's Dr. Feld always responds to his clients softly and stoically. Even when he's making outrageous observations and asking overly explicit questions, he says everything with a completely straight face. As tempting as it must have been to go over-the-top, Carell maintains a low-key composure.

But make no mistake: there is still humor to be found in "Hope Springs." Because everyone is so stark raving serious, everything is that much funnier. This isn't a laugh-out-loud comedy, but there are quiet chuckles that come from recognizable situations and realistic reactions to them.

Veteran actresses Jean Smart ("Designing Women"), Becky Ann Baker ("Freaks and Geeks"), Elisabeth Shue ("Adventures in Babysitting"), and Mimi Rogers ("Someone to Watch Over Me") are also in the cast, but don't see the movie for any of them – their appearances are glorified cameos at best. This film belongs entirely to Streep, Jones, and Carell – and that's a good thing, because they make the most of it with likeable, charming performances.

No one here is perfect – well-meaning words or actions can sometimes (and usually do) backfire – but they're all trying to do the right thing in their own way. They have only the best intentions at heart.

"Hope Springs" isn't always easy to watch, but it's impossible not to root for these complicated people at the center of this broken, wonderful marriage. 

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