Hope Springs

What is born each night and dies at dawn?
Hope!
Giacomo PucciniTurandot,  Act 2 (first performance was at the La Scala Opera House April 25th, 1926)

Hope springs eternal in the human breast –
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man (1734)

These are the antecedents for the brand new film called Hope Springs which opened today. Starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell, the plot is fairly straightforward. Streep and Jones play a couple called Kay and Arnold who have been married for 31 years. They live in Omaha, their kids have grown up and moved out. He’s an executive in an accounting firm and she works in a ladies clothing shop.

Streep’s Kay is dissatisfied with the way her marriage is at the moment. Jones’s Arnold is oblivious. They’ve settled into a patterns and habits which no longer include sex, either planned or spontaneous, as part of their married lives.

They’re not too old for sex, but they’ve slept in separate bedrooms for so long that opportunities are infrequent. In fact, at the beginning of the film, Kay makes an overture, while dressed in a brand new negligee. But Arnold isn’t interested, and shoos her back to her own bedroom.

Every morning is the same – Arnold arrives downstairs just as a plate with bacon and eggs with coffee is being served. He immediately buries himself in the newspaper before leaving. Evenings aren’t much different – Arnold falls asleep in his chair watching the Golf Channel.

Kay decides to get ahead of the situation, so tries looking at some books on how to solve marital problems. Alas, all of these fall short, so she books a week of intense marriage counseling with Steve Carell’s Dr. Feld who has authored books, has a website, and is based in Great Hope Springs in Maine. Arnold doesn’t want to go, doesn’t see the need for it, thinks that Kay has wasted her money – but manages to board the plane just before the doors close.

As expected, Arnold is dead set against working to find a way to fix any problems his marriage may have because, in his eyes, the marriage doesn’t need fixing. You can tell from the body language that Dr. Feld has his hands full with these two.

There’s your set up.

To be honest, I was disappointed. The film doesn’t play as a comedy – there are a few funny moments – but they’re coming mostly from Arnold’s mulishness rather than from one-liners. Streep’s Kay is level, and decent, and sweet, and she’s not closed off like Jones’s Arnold.

Carell plays his role as the marriage counselor completely straight. He hasn’t any funny lines at all. He knows how to probe but Arnold is his toughest challenge.

Though Streep as Kay does a wonderful job with her role, it is Jones who plays against type and is at the center of the film. His work and Streep’s make the film an exemplary vehicle for actors and actresses but beyond their acting chops – the film was quite flat.

Without any broad humor, or even light-hearted humor, or even some strident or severe arguments between the principals – the film lacks highlights, or intensity. Nothing that happens is surprising – except for the fact – that without using any foul language, or showing any skin, the film faces and deals with some adult sexual situations.

Overall, this one won’t be remembered as a noteworthy film by Streep, Carell, Director David Frankel who worked with Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, or first-time film screenwriter Vanessa Taylor, who has done quite well for herself writing TV shows. The sole kudos go to Tommy Lee Jones who has the unrewarding task of making himself believable or likeable as a guy who is bored, or disinterested, or angry most of the time.

Three point zero is the rating.

Have a look at the trailer, but be warned – the trailer has much more energy than the actual movie.

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