Hope Springs

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Release: Wednesday, August 8, 2012

[Theater]

You’d think after 30-some years of marriage that everything, right down to the very second of each day, is calculated, controlled…..in a word, routine. There’s a certain comfort in routines. Arnold Soames (Tommy Lee Jones) is a firm believer in that, and it reflects in the way he carries himself as a CPA, one with a penchant for falling asleep while watching golf tips on ESPN. That’s not the way his wife views her life, though. When the camera cuts to a shot of Kay (Maryl Streep) glancing idly at her deflated husband in the recliner, her eyes tell a whole story. They reveal this plot, actually.

What she needs is a rekindling with the man she fell in love with all those years ago. She’s fed up of the increasing distance she feels from her husband — whether or not that’s his fault or theirs collectively kind of guides the script in a general direction. Emphasis on ‘general,’ as it takes awhile for us to figure out what’s dysfunctional here. The couple sleeps in separate rooms, don’t speak much throughout the day, and have fully-grown children.

Finally, enough’s enough. One day she suggests to Arnold that they seek marriage counseling up in Great Hope Springs, Maine. There’s a well-known therapist who can help rekindle the flame. And it’s a last-ditch effort for Kay, too. These days it seems like a chore having to put food on a table for a man who won’t say a word and who barely has time to kiss her on the cheek on his way out to work. The real question hanging in the balance, though, is whether or not she ever had lived the romantic life that she had imagined years ago.

Enter matured Steve Carell. As Dr. Feld, his job is to either mend marriages or end them. From the very first moment they’re chatting with the doc, it’s clear that Kay is on Feld’s cooperative list and Arnold, quite the opposite. Though not intentionally archetypal, the character of Arnold is something of a model for men who are retreating into their latter years with most of their dignity in tact. The last thing he needs is for some random guy with a degree in sex counseling to diminish it. As can be predicted from the male’s perspective, he walls off most of the questions and keeps to himself.

As the therapy continues, that approach is hardly sufficient, and actually incites Kay to react poorly to her husband, in a variety of situations. Dr. Feld makes it clear that intimacy has to be obtained by working together, and by starting slowly. When applied to the pace of the movie, that is great therapy. The film slips further into comedy and away from the serious examination of mature relationships. But that’s alright — all we want is to see Meryl Streep happy! It takes us awhile to get to that but it’s well worth the fight and hey, even MIB would be happy to hear that Mr. Jones got in touch with his sensitive side.

As slight a cast as Hope Springs requires, it is an extremely stacked one. Jones and Streep need no introduction or qualification, but Carell has definitely stepped up his game. Or put on his Poker face. Whichever metaphor suits — it’s good for him, because we listen intently to what he has to offer, and leaving the theater we hope that, should that time come, we have a therapist as open and caring as Dr. Feld.

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3-5Recommendation: This one’s targeted at a slightly older demographic, to be sure. In that way, it possesses great wisdom and experience. It reveals some of the more troubling secrets about marriage; some things that I give credit to Streep and Jones for demonstrating together. It’s sweet, earnest and above all it’s a refreshing dramedy that finds its appeal in unexpected places.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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