Meryl Streep brings humor to 'Hope Springs,' but it's no comedy
"Hope Springs," directed by David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada") and starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell, is not a comedy, as its poster and trailer suggest, but a sad story of a 30-year marriage gone bad. That rare Hollywood movie, it's about grown-ups working through something complicated, writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Hope Springs,' with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell. Directed by David Frankel, from a screenplay by Vanessa Taylor. 99 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving sexuality. Several theaters.
You might have gotten the impression that "Hope Springs" is a comedy, what with the cute poster, jaunty trailer, presence of Steve Carell and reunion of Meryl Streep with David Frankel, who directed her to great comic effect in "The Devil Wears Prada." But settle into a cheery popcorn-filled date night at your peril: "Hope Springs" is a drama, and often a very sad one at that, about a 30-year marriage gone stale.
That being said, it's well worth seeing; just don't expect a laugh riot. Streep plays Kay, the long-suffering, endlessly placating wife of Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones). They're a middle-class Omaha couple with grown children, still working but close to retirement, and their marriage has gone terribly wrong: Arnold sleeps down the hall, doesn't talk to Kay at breakfast (which she silently makes for him; same bacon-and-egg every morning), ignores her for the TV. Desperate, Kay haunts the self-help section of the bookstore (in a classic Streep bit — this movie's not entirely without comedy — she's horrified when she accidentally pulls out a book on open marriage, putting it back quickly and looking around furtively to be sure nobody saw). Finding an appealing therapist (Carell), Kay buys two tickets to the New England town where the doctor practices, hoping to jump-start her marriage.
It's refreshing to see a film that treats intimacy among an older couple as something real and meaningful (usually it's a punch line), and Streep and Jones bring honesty and warmth to their roles. Carell, barely cracking a smile, nicely finds a smooth, soft-voiced therapist groove; never losing patience even as he discovers more and more about how far apart Kay and Arnold have grown. Asked to share their innermost fantasies, Arnold speaks of having Kay do something unprintable to him in the office, "at tax time"; she says her fantasy is to renew their wedding vows, on the beach, maybe with the kids there.
Often "Hope Springs" feels like watching a therapy session — albeit a well-scripted one — and its inevitable ending doesn't feel entirely earned. But it's a treat to watch as Streep and Jones craft a believable couple while not entirely leaving behind their well-honed screen personas (Kay has a feathery, Streepy ditheriness; Arnold's taciturn, bolting out sentences like he's in a dialogue race). Though it ends in smiles, "Hope Springs" is no comedy but something far more rare: a Hollywood story of grown-ups, working through something far more complicated than happily-ever-after.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org