Meryl Streep as Kay
Tommy Lee Jones as Arnold
Steve Carell as Dr. Feld
Jean Smart as Eileen, Kay’s Friend
Ben Rappaport as Brad, Their Son
Marin Ireland as Molly, Their Daughter
Patch Darragh as Mark, Their Son-in-Law
Brett Rice as Vince, Arnold’s Friend
Becky Ann Baker as Cora, The Waitress
Elisabeth Shue as Karen, The Bartender
Charles Techman as Charlie, The Docent
Daniel Flaherty as Danny, The Bookstore Clerk (as Daniel J. Flaherty)
Damian Young as Mike, The Innkeeper
Mimi Rogers as Carol, The Neighbor
Ann Harada as Ann, The Happy Wife
Directed by David Frankel
Having just celebrated her 31st anniversary to husband Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), Nebraska housewife Kay Soames (Meryl Streep) is unhappy with her life because they sleep in separate beds and never have the romance or intimacy of their early days of marriage. When she sees Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell) on TV, she buys them tickets to spend a week in Great Hope Springs, Maine for “intensive couples counseling,” something her crotchety husband doesn’t want anything to do with.
Going by the commercials and premise, one could safely assume this new dramedy from director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley & Me”) will only interest women of a certain age. While they may be an easier demographic to sell the movie to, good movies are good because they work for everyone, and “Hope Springs” is one of those movies that transcends the fact it’s about people in their 60s as it offers laughs, tears and just overall entertainment for anyone who likes well-written, well-acted movies and much of that comes down to the casting.
From the first time we meet Arnold and Kay Soames, we know these people, whether they’re our parents or grandparents. He’s a cranky old accountant close to retirement who has gotten comfortable with his life and doesn’t want much more, but Kay just wants to feel loved now that their kids have left the house though she doesn’t get any sort of attention from her husband. This leads to the simple idea of her trying to make things better by convincing him to go see a couples therapist to fix their problems.
Working from a fantastic script by Vanessa Taylor, Frankel doesn’t have to do much to make up for last year’s abysmal “The Big Year,” creating a movie that relies more on the dialogue and performances like a well-written play. It’s clear that sometimes all you need are two great actors as he has with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones to make this premise one that’s surprisingly easy to relate to regardless of your age.
Jones’s performance shows off a well-honed actor who can get a laugh with just a simple look of exasperation, something we get a lot from him, but every quip is delivered in such a sharp way, he immediately wins you over and rules over the movie. After playing a string of dominant female characters like Margaret Thatcher, Julia Child and Anna Wintour, Streep embraces the meeker and more dowdy role of Kay, showing she can play a more toned-down role. That doesn’t mean Kay isn’t a strong woman and just the fact she finally decides to take a stand for herself with the handful that Arnold is and takes the initiative to overcome her unhappiness proves otherwise. Surprisingly, Carell takes a more low-key deadpan straight man role as their therapist, essentially being a facilitator for the other two actors, much like his character.
Other than a brief appearance by Elizabeth Shue and a couple others, it’s really a fairly straight-ahead movie with just those three main characters. Most of the film either takes place in therapy where Dr. Feld eggs the couple to talk openly about their feelings and fantasies or spends time afterwards with the repercussions of those sessions, either as they’re exploring each other in assigned “sexercises.” In either case, they tend to be awkward, because you really feel as if you’re viewing this couple’s most private and intimate moments, but that ends up adding to the humor. That said, there are things that no one should ever be forced to see like Meryl Streep contemplating fellatio techniques on a banana or going down on Tommy Lee Jones in a movie theater. For a movie about sex, it isn’t particularly sexy nor is there any actual nudity (thank the heavens for that!) yet it still gets its point across well.
The material is always handled in a tasteful way and you really grow to care about these people and hope they can work things out, as the film gets increasingly more emotional and less out-and-out funny. Frankel proved with “The Devil Wears Prada” how he excels at finding just the right music to set the right tone and that’s especially true here.
By their third session, things aren’t going very well and Arnold realizes there’s a chance he might lose Kay if he doesn’t make an effort, so he goes all out with a special dinner and night at a fancy hotel with plans to make up for his lack of interest. It doesn’t go as planned leading to some of the film’s heaviest moments, but the quick resolution that follows is one of the film’s less credible moments. By then, it’s already won you over so it’s easy to accept, but one has to assume that there’s more to fixing the problems in this relationship.
The Bottom Line:
However you slice it, “Hope Springs” is the funniest sex comedy you’re likely to see this year, as well as an incredibly poignant film. Anyone who thinks only women in their 50s can appreciate it clearly doesn’t understand characters like these may be our parents or grandparents now, but they very well could be us in the future.