Review of Hope Springs, starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell
It’s truly an acting dream couple. Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones – known for his brooding intensity in No Country For Old Men, Lonesome Dove, The Fugitive and so many more – is teamed with Academy Award winner Meryl Freaking Streep – known for Sophie’s Choice, The Iron Lady, Kramer vs. Kramer and more breathtaking performances than we have room for here. They are acting powerhouses, opposite each other for the first time, team up for a dramatic movie in which… they spend a lot of time sitting on a couch talking to each other.
That’s not a bad thing, but we shouldn’t get people’s hopes up too much for big over-the-top drama in Hope Springs. These are funny, subtle, laid-back, realistic performances snuck in at the end of the summer for a more mature crowd that decided to skip The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. They’re not the kind of performances the Academy will remember in a few months (well, Streep has good people working for her, so maybe).
Streep and Jones are Kay and Arnold Soames, married now for 31 years. For Arnold, 31 years says it all. It’s an accomplishment in and of itself, and maybe the romance is gone, but he’s content and thinks they have a lot to be proud of. Kay though wishes Arnold would touch her like he used to – not just sexually, but just an affectionate touch to acknowledge she’s there. They sleep separately because of Arnold’s snoring, but we’re left wondering if that’s an excuse. Kay pushes them into a week-long retreat and counseling session with a noted marriage counselor (Steve Carell).
There is good drama between the two in their sessions, but don’t expect the kind of big dramatic revelatory moments that wins Oscars. They sit and they talk, like a real couple would. There’s no great moment where Kay or Arnold just stands up and blurts out a great secret. Orchestral music doesn’t blare for an emotional outpouring. There is honesty at a reasonable volume.
But there are great moments. Just watch their body language on the couch. Depending on how things are going, they’re close, they’re far apart, they’ve tilted toward each other – a lot gets said. And in scenes outside therapy, they each say a lot with their faces – watch for some well-placed frowns or smiles.
Shockingly, funnyman Steve Carell isn’t the funniest one in the movie. This is more the Carell of Crazy Stupid Love or Dan In Real Life than it is any of his wacky characters. Like any good therapist, he hangs back and lets the others do the talking – and when they do, it’s Jones and even Streep who get the biggest laughs. If you’re fans, you know the two have each made us laugh as well as cry before. Director David Frankel got comedy out of Streep in The Devil Wears Prada too.
This is of course a chick flick. Streep’s, shall we say -- more mature fans will want to see her here – she’s continuing a “mature romantic comedy” streak that they loved in It’s Complicated and Mamma Mia. But despite the film’s initial set-up, don’t think this chick flick is entirely pro-chick. Old curmudgeonly Arnold isn’t the only one at fault here. There are layers explored. The chick isn’t always the hero.
And that occasional raw slap-in-the-face of reality is where audiences should perhaps be warned. Hope Springs isn’t necessarily a summer romantic getaway. You may want to be sure you’re in the mood. The Soames’ problems are achingly real and can happen to anyone – probably to the older crowd that’s going to be in the theater. You may have to face some realities like Kay and Arnold do. Sometimes they’re R-rated realities. Brace yourself for those moments surrounding the light comedy.
That’s ok though, the therapy could be good for you.