Hope Springs (Movie Notes)

17 Sep

I really wanted to like Hope Springs. How could it not be funny, I thought? Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in a film about a married couple finding their way back to each other. I thought, “Ah, another funny film with great actors. It will zing like Something’s Gotta Give (2010) with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson.”

Basic storyline: Kay and Arnold have been married for 31 years. Within the first ten minutes we learn about their marriage:

  • They sleep in separate rooms, and barely acknowledge each other.
  • She makes his breakfast every morning, silently putting it on the table in front of him.
  • He eats it while reading the paper, doesn’t say thank you, and takes his leave with a few words indicating when he’ll return.
  • She responds with the dinner menu.
  • She works at a clothing store. He’s an accountant.
  • She makes a lovely dinner for their anniversary and invites the kids. He seems to forget it, or, worse, sees nothing to celebrate.
  • She moons over him and is sad that they’ve come to this silent, empty moment in their marriage.
  • He is either content with or oblivious to the stagnation and status quo.

So, when Kay makes a bold move and books them a week of intensive therapy in Maine, made bolder because she “pays for it with her own money,” my first question was, “Wouldn’t that money be better spent on divorce counseling?”  The narrative  built no sympathy for Arnold, and made me truly wonder why a middle-aged woman who has personal financial stability would opt to save this relationship. There is no glimmer of anything shiny under the mud. No inkling given about what brought them together, what spark she still feels and why, or what there is worth saving.

Arnold grumpily agrees to join Kay on the trip after a co-worker describes what happened to his marriage when he gave refrigeratorsinstead of flowers, and silently accepted the dinner service his wife provided. So! we think, Arnold does care. He’s a major curmudgeon and clearly something is bothering him, but he cares! Hurray.

It comes as notsurprise that Arnold can’t remember the last time they had sex and that Kay craves intimacy.  As the therapist, commonly known as Bernie around the quaint town of Hope Springs, Steve Carroll plays his most sedentary role ever.  I found myself wondering if his butt hurt from making this whole film sitting down. I think I should have been thinking about Kay and Arnold, don’t you? To be fair, Carrell plays Dr. Bernie with steadfast compassion and kindness, helping the couple address difficult issues that could make anyone squirm.

They go through Bernie’s exercises, and it’s one step forward, two steps back for most of the film. Some of the scenes were viscerally painful to watch. Others, simply difficult to believe. Kay’s eagerness borders on an adolescent crush. Arnold’s reticence signals deeper troubles into which we’re given no insight. I do agree with Rolling Stone reviewer, Peter Travers, that these are two of the best actors on the planet. Streep’s timing and reserve definitely express every nuance of Kay’s desperation, desires, and needs. Her Mona Lisa-smile as she inches toward what she wants is delightful. And Tommy Lee Jones could teach Walther Matthau and Jack Lemmon a thing or two about grumpy old men.

But, I never did understand her motivation for working so hard to save this relationship. Nor his sudden catharsis and turn around. (Although his bashful smile when he tells her she’s pretty, hinted at something deeper that I really wanted to see.) Screenwriter Vanessa Taylor, who has me sitting on the edge of my seat with her adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, and director David Frankel, who brought out Streep’s inner comedic witch and Anne Hathaway’s deeper side in The Devil Wears Prada, simply never made this married woman care.

To add to my dismay, I had thought this a romantic comedy, based on the previews, but there was very little funny about this film. Well, there was a delightful bar scene with Elizabeth Shue as Karen, the bartender. I would have loved more of her, and her dynamic with Streep.

And, yet, it wasn’t a drama either. Not really. Culture Husband and I left this one feeling a bit depressed, by the subject matter and the execution.

Many reviewers have loved this film, and some even believe that Streep’s portrayal of the “quiet desperation” of a 60-something year old suburban housewife may have “Oscar” written all over it. I’ve provided some links below.

I’d love to feel that way.  I could name half-a-dozen films about the desparate middle class housewife that packed more punch and pathos (I’ll start with Julianne Moore’s brilliant performance in Todd Hayne’s Safe).

I’ll refrain from any “Hope Springs” play on words. Let’s just say that I’m hopeful I’ll enjoy the next film I see a bit more.

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3 Responses to “Hope Springs (Movie Notes)”

  1. Brandon Isaacson September 17, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    Completely agree.

    • Culture Bean September 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      Thanks! Given all the positive press this film has had, I was a bit afraid to post this for fear of losing any credibility I have. Glad to know I’m not alone.

      • Brandon Isaacson September 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

        Glad to join the choir! I’m also perplexed by the positive response. I think the critics were just trying to help a movie that attempted to explore the emotion of an under served demographic in a way that approaches complexity. I too think it’s very average, but I admire that it’s more ambitious than the typical romantic comedy about attractive young people.

        All that said, it doesn’t accomplish it goals. Pat on the back to Sony for trying. Hopefully next time they’ll employ a more capable director for such material. Always super happy to see a movie succeed that doesn’t fit the typical mold because it encourages the studios to explore new ground.

        On an unrelated note: How was Hope Springs PG-13? Makes the Bully controversy from earlier this year much more infuriating. I hope they release the R version on home video. If you haven’t seen Kirby Dick’s documentary about the MPAA you should! “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” — on that note, Kirby Dick’s new movie, The Invisible War, is AMAZING. I expect it to be a frontrunner for the Documentary Oscar this year. It’s about the epidemic of rape in the US military.

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