Once in a great while, least of all in the summer months, a movie comes along that is not merely entertaining, it is enlightening, thought-provoking, a conversation starter. And it deals with something relevant to our lives.
Marriage, for example.
In “Hope Springs,” Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep play Kay and Arnold, a couple married 31 years who may not make it to 32.
Everybody in Great Hope Springs, Maine, it seems, is in on the local joke. People come here to work on their marriages with sex therapist Dr. Feld.
“Tryin’ to get the old magic back?” the bartender (Elizabeth Shue) knowingly asks. Then, with a rueful smile, the killer follow-up: “Didja ever have it?”
Kay isn’t sure anymore. Married for 31 years to tax accountant Arnold, she’s desperate to end the silence, the lack of touching, the exile to separate bedrooms.
Arnold, a growling bear of a penny pincher, is angry about the cost, about having to talk to a stranger about his private life — just generally annoyed. He’d rather be back in Omaha curled up in his leather recliner in front of the Golf Channel.
Yes, Arnold and Kay are from Omaha, and the stereotype of the boring, repressed Midwestern couple might rankle a few here. The truth is they could be from anywhere, and the issues would apply. But, hey, gotta love that glimpse of the The World-Herald at the breakfast table, even if the movie was filmed elsewhere.
“Hope Springs” is not the light date comedy the previews would have you believe. And if you’re looking for Steve Carell, as the therapist, to crack wise, you can forget it. Carell plays Feld as a sober-faced and straightforward professional who knows what he’s doing.
Director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”) and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor (“Everwood”) fold lots of humor into the mix, but it’s the kind of laugh tripped by recognizing characters and situations from our own lives, rather than that generated by broad slapstick.
You may squirm at this couple’s discomfort almost as much as you laugh.
“Hope Springs” takes serious marital problems, and the role therapy can play in addressing them, seriously. You’ll find sexual humor, but not gross-out comedy. A little language, but no F-bombs. Characters, not caricatures.
Streep and Jones are a shade old for the parts. Still, it’s refreshing to see Jones with a belly and Streep with a few pounds on her hips, playing real people stuck in a mundane rut and more than a little scared about their future. I didn’t find a false moment.
“We need to find a way to cultivate intimacy,” Feld tells them. “But first we’re going to have to tear away some scar tissue.”
The pleasure-pain of “Hope Springs” isn’t likely to appeal as much to the under-35 set. But for those who have been around the block, the message here is clear. Hope springs eternal — if you’re willing to do the work required to change your life.
Contact the writer: