Tuesday 25 September 2012

Movie Review: Hope Springs (2012)

A semi-comic exploration of marital and sexual tensions deep into a long-lasting marriage, Hope Springs showcases two veteran performers having fun playing their age and representing a generation. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones expertly juggle comedy with drama, effortlessly drawing on their experience to create two characters memorable for the ordinariness of their domestic struggle.

In suburban Omaha, Kay Soames (Streep) is desperately unhappy in her marriage to Arnold (Jones). 31 years into their union, they sleep in separate bedrooms, never have sex, and Arnold, an accountant with an addiction to golf instructional videos, appears to hardly ever notice that she even exists. Out of desperation, Kay books one week of intensive couples therapy in the picturesque town of Hope Springs, Maine, with Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell).

Arnold is a most unwilling participant, and in a series of difficult sessions Bernie faces an arduous task to help the couple peel back the layers of mutual antagonism that have built up over the years. Kay and Arnold both have to come to terms with unpleasant realities as they attempt to rediscover the love that their marriage is built on.

Hope Springs does take a few short-cuts, including veering too far from reality in a movie theatre scene where Kay attempts to overcome an aversion to sexual experimentation. Towards the end, the Vanessa Taylor script stumbles over a couple of fundamental hiccups in the relationship between Kay and Arnold, leaving some issues dangling in a rush towards the predictable happy ending.

But along the way, Hope Springs unblinkingly and methodically places under a harsh light all the gnarly issues that build up in a long marriage, and deliciously turns them over for a full examination. It's all here, from couples taking each other for granted, to the disappearing sexual spark, to unfulfilled sexual fantasies, to the minor habits that become major irritants, and most tellingly the inability of life-long partners to honestly communicate.

Streep and Jones joyfully step into their roles, both plump with the excess weight of too many years spent not caring about appearance. Jones has never been craggier, his face weathered from too many routine tax forms and too few nights of youth-rejuvenating excitement. Streep delivers another magical performance, Kay a woman overflowing with sad emotions but never finding the courage to form the words needed to express them. She mostly communicates with sad eyes, a tense smile, and a posture hoping for a happy surprise but all too ready to settle for the next disappointment.

In a controlled performance, Steve Carell provides strong support as a catalyst, the only avenue towards salvation that Kay and Arnold have, and then only if they choose to communicate in his presence. Carell infuses Dr. Feld with a few idiosyncrasies, but mostly plays him helpfully straight, firmly pushing on the right relationship pressure points at all the appropriate times.

Director David Frankel, who worked with Streep on The Devil Wears Prada, intentionally lands the resort town setting on the wrong side of frilly tourist trap. Arnold feels trapped in the therapy sessions, Kay feels trapped in a dead-end marriage, and Hope Springs is the perfect metaphor as a location that's supposed to be prefect, but is perhaps trying too hard to silently hide all the messy organic parts that may not be pretty, but are essential to sustain meaningful life.

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