Movie review: 'Hope Springs' flows with drama, splashes of laughs


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You've got to hand it to the makers of "Hope Springs."

Its leads are old enough to qualify for early Social Security, but the movie doesn't pander to a younger audience by throwing in an adult child played by, say, Justin Timberlake or Jennifer Lawrence.

No, three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep and one-time Academy Award recipient Tommy Lee Jones are what you get in "Hope Springs," along with Steve Carell in a supporting role as a psychiatrist specializing in intensive couples counseling. It's a movie for grown-ups, even if it will make some squirm, despite its oddly lenient PG-13 rating. It opens in theaters today.


'Hope Springs'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell.
  • Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic content involving sexuality.

Ms. Streep and Mr. Jones are Kay and Arnold, and everything you need to know about them is conveyed by their gift to each other for their 31st wedding anniversary -- a new cable subscription. "It's a lot of channels," Kay tells their adult children, who look askance at the choice.

Kay, though, longs for so much more. The Omaha, Neb., couple have separate bedrooms, and after Arnold rejects Kay's mildly amorous overture -- yet again -- she heads for the bookstore and spots a marriage guide by Dr. Feld (Mr. Carell).

Turns out he runs pricey counseling sessions in Maine, and she decides she's going, with or without Arnold. He balks and barks and gripes -- "We're not 22 years old anymore. Things change." -- but ultimately joins her and resumes complaining in New England.

With Arnold at one end of the couch and Kay at the other, Dr. Feld gently tries to discover whether this marriage can or should be saved and, if so, how.

Previews can make it appear as though "Hope Springs" is a flat-out comedy when, in fact, it's a drama with small, welcome pops of comedy. It deals with hard questions for couples who share a breakfast table, a house, a family and a life but not in the way they once did or she would like.

"Hope Springs" doesn't go for the easy out, but it does rely on the remarkable, never-fail talents of Ms. Streep and Mr. Jones.

With no accent and no famous persona of Margaret Thatcher or Julia Child to channel, Ms. Streep is forced to play a regular person who works at women's clothing store Coldwater Creek, just another sign that this film knows its target audience.

Kay is a character forged from small "tells," as when she fusses with the buttons on her sweater when the therapist raises a subject that makes her uncomfortable or she surveys herself in the mirror or snaps the waist of her pantyhose.

Mr. Jones, often huddled in the corner of the counselor's couch, also has nowhere to hide as a partner in an accounting firm and willing prisoner of routine who eats the same breakfast each workday and falls asleep in front of the TV each night.

David Frankel, who guided Ms. Streep to an Oscar nomination for "The Devil Wears Prada," works from a screenplay by TV writer Vanessa Taylor. This is her first feature screenplay and she didn't write the scenes knowing they would be played out by the eventual stars.

Watching these well-known performers as a couple trying to restore intimacy to their marriage may make you uncomfortable, even within the expansive confines of the PG-13 rating. But it asks the natural questions long-married couples might face: Is that all there is at this point? Could or should there be more? What happened to the love and sizzle?

A co-worker of Kay insists, "Marriages don't change." But after getting to know and like Kay and Arnold, you sure hope they can and will.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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