Hope Springs Directed by: David Frankel Cast: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: August 8, 2012
PLOT: A couple (Streep, Jones) who have been married for 30 years attend intensive marriage counseling in Great Hope Springs, Maine.
WHO'S IT FOR?: This quiet story (which is more serious than it is funny) might offer a good vacation from summer blockbuster fatigue. However, the film is just as quaint as its equivalent type of experience — sitting outside and having a meaningful chat with someone, which is also something that can be done outside of showings of Total Recall.
EXPECTATIONS: I hadn't seen more than half of the trailer, but that smirk on Streep's face on the poster had me a little worried (much like Jones' face on the same poster). What sort of evil plan would she be cooking up next, after winning an impersonation Oscar for that rusty biopic The Iron Lady?
Meryl Streep as Kay: As she's the one doing the most work in this movie, this is essentially Streep's movie. And by no surprise, she continues to impress with her ability to know a character and play within her limits. As Kay, a quiet housewife who works at a clothing store when she's not doing housewife things for her husband, she doesn't embellish the emotions within this character, or unleash them in heavier moments like she's trying to cause a revolution for unhappy wives everywhere. Streep maintains her ability to present the charisma within the supposedly average woman. Score: 7
Tommy Lee Jones as Arnold: With this and Men in Black 3, Jones has gained a monopoly on the newest era of grumpy old men, this time playing a simplistic and emotionless father/husband who has become an old-fashioned, golf-loving man. To Jones' credit, he often manages to make Arnold's curmudgeon-y cynicism amusing, especially when delivering bitter retorts (usually towards his opposing straight-man, Carell) at a fast pace. He's able to enliven this seemingly cold character with humor that often comes from taking Arnold slowly out of his repressed Midwestern shell. Score: 6
Steve Carell as Dr. Feld: This character is best as a mouthpiece who encourages the discussions and moments between Kay and Arnold; he isn't a creature with much of his own background, or any depth. Carell plays this startlingly serious character as if he's afraid making a joke might ruin everything. The script itself is too guarded with this character, refusing to give us much info on this person who could or could not be invasive, while at the same time not providing us about where his perspective on marriage comes from. Score: 5
TALKING: With such believable characters, Hope Springs is able to make its audience members feel like they too are being asked these questions by Carell's therapist character. While some of the dialogue might strike viewers with its tough sincerity ("Off is just off," says Jones defensively), the real food for thought might come from the same questions Kay and Arnold must tackle to save their fictitious marriage. Score: 6
SIGHTS: The script and performances make up a big chunk Hope Springs, but the film loses some power by being full of flat imagery. When Kay and Arnold are in therapy in Dr. Feld's office, (a large portion of the movie), the images are more dull than they have to be. The appearance of the Northeast locations adds a little spice, with outside shots of quaint stores of restaurants. Hope Springs succeeds in providing a believable depiction of average people, but its merit as a movie itself suffers because of such. There's nothing here visually to re-add the word "great" to the film's title location. Score: 4
SOUNDS: Though there's no Hope Springs soundtrack to be found, this fictitious collection does feature a few catchy adult pop tunes that you wouldn't mind hearing again (by Annie Lennox, Rachel Yamagata, Ingrid Michaelson, etc.). As for the score, nicely melodic strings and piano are heard often at the right time, allowing the performances of the movie to have their full attention with little distraction. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: It's a difficult scene, but there's something touching (and yes, believable) about Arnold's "final attempt" at the fancy hotel.
ENDING: It's a sweet tag at the end, even if the epilogue feels a little too late on two things — providing background on Dr. Feld, and showing a little spirit with that dull camera.
QUESTIONS: Is a quieter, less-comedic story the type of entertainment that the non-teenage boy movie-going demographic needs? What's with the weird character titles in the credits, like "Danny, The Bookstore Clerk"?
REWATCHABILITY: Though Hope Springs is generally inoffensive, it doesn't have a lot of power as something to constantly refer back to.
With credit to a story that could have blown itself out of comedic proportion (by making a love triangle, having Jones step on a rake, or having Streep get a dumb tan, etc.), this is a much simpler story than one might expect it to be. An older married couple is unhappy, and find themselves in therapy because of their crippling lack of communication, and then they try to make it work.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones find potency within restraint with their chemistry in Hope Springs, a crucial element needed to add flavor to this dry story that is sure to lose viewers expecting a bunch of scenes involving Meryl Streep and her poster-friendly smirks. With the believable chemistry between the two as average married people, they do make the movie's most intimate moments special.
And just as in real life, klutzy moments between the two have their awkward aspects override a sense of comedy. Watching this couple try to bring some spice back into their life (with Streep making the moves, and Jones just sitting there) can be a little amusing considering the talent, but with such characters invested in capturing a reality, it can be plainly awkward, either adorably, or uncomfortably.
There's a sweetness to Hope Springs, especially as a movie that sticks to its mature roots. Some of its scene may slack in running time, and Carell should be digitally replaced by a non-murderous H.A.L 9000. But with the chemistry between Streep and Jones, this simple concept becomes a romantic non-comedy with bits of real charm.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10