Director: David Frankel. Escape/Management 360/Mandate/MGM
Producer: Todd Black, Guymon Casady. Writer: Vanessa Taylor. Camera: Florian Ballhaus. Music: Theodore Shapiro. Sets: Stuart Wurtzel.
Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carel, Jean Smart, Ben Rappaport, Marin Ireland, Patch Darragh, Brett Rice, Elisabeth Shue, Mimi Rogers.
Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) are a middle-aged couple having serious marital problems. They sleep in separate rooms and hardly speak, let alone touch or make love. At the end of her tether, Kay blows her savings on a week-long trip to a relationship counsellor (Carel) in Maine. Reluctantly, Arnold follows and the therapist delves deep into the most private and intimate details of their lives in a bid to help them.
Given the bright and breezy poster and how this has been promoted, one could be forgiven for leaving the cinema feeling slightly short-changed by Hope Springs.
Not that it isn’t a good film (it is), but when you are lead to expect a comedy drama, you kind of expect a few laughs. Director Frankel is the man behind many episodes of Sex and the City so you would expect a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Hope Springs, however, is a very sober examination of when the rot seeps in to an otherwise loving and devoted couple.
Side-stepping the lack of hilarity matter, on this level Hope Springs works extremely well as there is a trio of exceptional, quietly impressive performances.
Leading the way and almost waltzing away with the whole film is Streep. One expects excellence from this most actorly of actors and she delivers the goods with customary versatility as a mousy, passive aggressive type of middle-class wife who rediscovers her sexy self. She speaks in a calm voice, just above a whisper, the sort of woman who unconsciously fastens the buttons on her cardigan when the word sex is mentioned. This is a delicately detailed and precisely observed turn.
Jones, whose craggy, lived-in features are perfectly suited to play the boorish male menopausal, is up there with her. Like Streep, this is a performance of layers – the man at the end of the film is not the man we are initially presented with and his fears and phobias are given a generous airing thanks to his skilful underplaying.
Carel completes the superlative acting hat-trick as a trendy, right-on, talk it out therapist who needles the pair and gets under their skin with professional thoroughness.
Back to the laughs – well, hope springs indeed if you want any chuckles. The script definitely needed to be a bit gamier here. The players (especially Carel) are certainly capable of making you smile; indeed, when the writing gives them the opportunity, they jump at it and show how much further they could have pressed. But Frankel and writer Taylor stubbornly decide to play it straight and make this an “issues” movie only. No major calamities therefore, just something of a missed opportunity.