What a perfect, multi-layered title for a sensational, poignant, brilliantly acted and ADULT-ORIENTED movie.
The title refers to the name of the Maine town to which Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) go for some intense marriage counseling from Dr. Feld (Steve Carell.) More on the film in a moment.
The title is also a cry of exultation from adult audiences who so yearn for movies of substance, particularly in a summer that is so typically filled with mindless action movies, dumb comedies, and other assorted silliness. A soulfully written story about real people over 40 (uh, 50, well, really 60) that illuminates real life issues for married couples is as rare as a positive political ad nowadays and is so welcome that it calls for a celebration. Hurray!
Ms. Streep and Mr. Jones play a Nebraska couple who have been married for 31 years and have fallen into a routine in which all intimacy, physical and emotional, has been long since lost; in fact, they even sleep in separate bedrooms. While Arnold seems (and looks here are indeed deceiving) content with the by-the-numbers motions of their relationship, Kay longs for the relationship they once had. To Arnold’s utter chagrin and annoyance, Kay signs them both up for a week of intense marriage counseling in a small Maine town.
Arnold begrudgingly agrees to go but is so afraid of letting his deeply buried fears of intimacy out that he does everything he can to sabotage the therapy sessions and maybe even his marriage. Undaunted, Kay and Dr. Feld gently–and sometimes not so gently–encourage Arnold to open up and eventually, he does.
As it is at its core a movie about intimacy and how people often go through the hoops of hell to protect themselves from being vulnerable, even with their partners, Hope Springs is often so raw that you actually feel like you are experiencing the emotions of a real-life couple as they bare their souls. As such, the film is likely in some ways to feel like a Rorschach test for couples who see the film together.
As Dr. Feld says in the film “Marriages go through bad years”. If your relationship is indeed open and intimate, the film may feel like a welcome validation of all the work that does indeed go into maintaining a successful marriage. If your relationship needs some help, the film may shine a light on some of those sensitive areas and encourage you to open up like Kay and Arnold do. In either case, the emotions in the film are sometimes so honest that you may feel at times like you are actually intruders in the room with Kay and Arnold.
And that’s one of the many reasons why the film, exquisitely written by Vanessa Taylor and impeccably directed by David Frankel (who also directed Ms. Streep in The Devil Wears Prada), is so utterly wonderful.
And the acting–oh my! Steve Carell is so likable and compassionate as Dr. Feld that he could probably set up a real counseling practice in which he would flourish. As usual, Ms. Streep is her own incomparable, brilliant-beyond-words self. What a treat it is to be a film fan living in the same era with the greatest actress in the history of cinema. All that being said, the true revelation in the film is Mr. Jones who should be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for his indelible performance as Arnold. Alternately gruff, imposing, bullying, tender, lost, sensitive, emotional, funny, and tormented, Mr. Jones’ performance is as good as any actor in many, many years.
So, please tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Tell everyone.
Hope Springs is my favorite film so far in 2012.