HOPE SPRINGS. Starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. Directed by David Frankel. 100 mins. Rated M (Sexual references and mature themes).
Talent, age, experience. All very impressively present in this light and serious comedy about marriage and marriage counseling.
Both Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, in their 60s, are so at home in front of the camera that their performances seem effortless – but, it is obvious that they have given a great deal of thought to each scene, even to body language with small details.
Hope springs eternal, of course. The title refers to Great Hope Springs, a small town in Maine.
In the meantime, in Omaha, Kay and Arthur are a 31 years married couple with two children. Their lives roll out every day in the same, the very same way. They love each other but have separate rooms. Is that all there is? Kay doesn’t think so and really can’t understand Arthur’s unwillingness to touch, his rather going to work, coming home to his meal and falling asleep before golf programs on TV. She looks for some books to help and discovers Dr (Steve Carell whose performance, except for the final credits, consists of sitting, listening empathetically and suggesting action steps). She watches his on-line promotion and books tickets to his office in Maine.
Most of the film is how Kay and Arthur deal with the sessions – he, of course, off side right from the start. Kay discovers that she is very traditional, even narrowly unaware, in her understanding of marriage and sex. The film also shows the ups and downs of the relationship after each session, the tension in finding a way to touch each other, let alone some relational behaviour that they are not used to (especially a farcical scene in a cinema). The two stars are at their best and their comic timing is impeccable. Tommy Lee Jones is amazingly good in making Arthur, his lack of awareness of how his wife feels, completely credible.
The screenplay makes the two a couple who are decent and good people who need the counseling to rediscover their love – especially going back to their meeting, their falling in love and the possibilities that were there as they married.
Afterwards? Back to ‘normal’? A fresh beginning? Of course. But the interest and the delight is in watching how it all work out. And the makers are shrewd. They keep plot development going all the way through the credits, keeping us there, a very happy family celebration and love renewal.
The film is strongly in favour of love, of fidelity, of marriage commitment, of not opting out of getting help but actively seeking it. Just as Kay tried to persuade Arthur to go to see Dr for couple counseling, many women may well be insisting that their husbands come with them to see Hope Springs. Yes.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 23 2012.