The trailer for “Hope Springs” make it look like an elderomcom. That is, a romantic comedy for the old age pension set. Instead it is a touching look at a couple who have forgotten how to b a couple. Add to that a performance from Meryl Streep that could be at acting classes and you have an unexpectedly engaging adult movie released during the silly summer season.
The movie opens on the occasion of Kay (Streep) and Arnold’s (Tommy Lee Jones thirty-first anniversary. “It isn’t anything special,” says Kay, “just an off year.” The Nebraska couple have raised their kids, they sleep in separate rooms and enjoy a comfortable, but disconnected life. When Kay finds a book titled “You Can Have the Marriage You Want” she decides it’s time to have a real marriage again. She books an intensive week of couple’s therapy with the book’s author Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) even though Arnold is uninterested and thinks it is a waste of time. Travelling to Maine they check into the local Econolodge and begin to explore their marriage… and one another.
There is something touching about watching these two characters remembering and reliving their thirty-one years together. Even though the script doesn’t dig too deep—unusual for a movie with therapy as a central plot device—the performances are so rich with meaning the script’s vagueness isn’t a hindrance.
Streep is masterful as a woman who has suppressed her real feelings and is now ready to assert herself, no matter how painful the result. “To be with somebody,” she says, “but not really be with them is worse than being alone.” In a commanding performance she steals every scene she’s in, even when she is silent. Her reactions to Arnold’s behavior are subtle, but heartfelt and heartbreaking.
Tommy Lee Jones has playing a grumpy old coot down pat, but here he brings something more to the table. He’s a plain-spoken accountant who waits just a bit too long to understand that there is trouble at home. Where Streep’s performance is external—she’s a reactor who talks about her feeling—his is internal. It’s his body language and facial expressions that help us understand the character, and understand we do.
Carell is the most understated of the three, in a role that requires him to do little more than ask questions and bring his warm, compassionate side.
There aren’t many big surprises in “Hope Springs,” but what the story lacks in twists it more than makes up for in emotional depth.