out of Five
Running time: 100
Emotionally engaging and brilliantly acted, this is a sharply observed relationship comedy-drama that deserves credit for sensitively tackling a subject that's surprisingly taboo in mainstream movies.
What's it all about?
Not to be confused with the dreadful 2003 Colin Firth movie, Hope Springs is directed by David Frankel and stars Meryl Streep as Kay, a housewife who's frustrated with her sexless marriage to Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), her husband of 31 years, who sleeps in a separate bedroom and rebuffs her attempts at intimacy. Despite Arnold's protests, Kay enrols the pair of them on an intensive week-long marriage guidance counselling session in Maine, under the care of therapist Dr Feld (Steve Carell, playing it completely straight throughout). However, once there, the sessions quickly become difficult as Dr Feld asks them to talk frankly about their sex lives and fantasies, before assigning them small-step intimacy-enhancing tasks to accomplish every evening.
Streep is terrific as Kay, delivering a timid, mousey but determined performance that's the polar opposite of the nominally similar role she played in It's Complicated; consequently, her sense of pent-up yearning and frustration is both keenly felt and genuinely heartbreaking. Jones is equally good as Arnold, using his gruffly familiar, no-nonsense screen persona to good effect and suggesting that that persona itself is a safety barrier, concealing deeper emotion.
The script is excellent and deserves credit for tackling an emotive subject that's still surprisingly taboo in mainstream Hollywood films; subsequently several scenes are liable to induce uncomfortable squirming in the audience just as much as they do in the characters. As a result, the film's sensitive, yet unflinching treatment of the subject is much more honest and more truthful than is usually seen in fluffy middle-aged Hollywood comedies (It's Complicated being a prime example, along with pretty much anything starring Diane Keaton).
Despite being marketed as an out-and-out comedy, Hope Springs is actually much more of a relationship drama with dashes of bittersweet humour sprinkled throughout; this means that even in a scene that's ostensibly played for laughs (Kay's failed attempt at going down on Arnold in an arthouse cinema), there are also moments of unexpected sadness. To that end, Frankel does an excellent job of balancing the tone between the comedic and the achingly emotional.
That said, it's fair to say that Carell's casting slightly backfires, since his presence leads you constantly expect a comedy moment that never comes (that may well have been the point, but if so, it doesn't work).
While not quite the comedy it's been marketed as, Hope Springs is nonetheless a well written, emotionally engaging comedy-drama with a pair of terrific performances from Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Recommended.