“Hope Springs” is a sexagenarian romance/sex comedy starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as an elderly couple who seek counseling in order to resurrect their stagnant marriage. They travel across the country to visit a renowned author and counselor (played by Steve Carell), and begin the arduous process of working out their intimacy issues.
It’s as awkward as it sounds, but it’s also very comical. In the hands of these three talented individuals, “Hope Springs” winds up a very funny, romantic and well done movie.
Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) have been married for 31 years. Their children are fully grown and married themselves now. Life has settled into a routine… one that’s making Kay uncomfortable. Arnold has come to practically ignore her. They sleep in separate bedrooms, and her attempts at intimacy are rebuffed. In frustration one day, she purchases a self-help book about marriage. Pursuing it further, she finds the author’s website and discovers he sees couples for counseling. Without checking with her husband, she signs them up.
When Arnold learns of it, he’s obstinately against it. He won’t go. Until Kay leaves for the airport without him. Then, begrudgingly, he follows. Once in Maine, they meet with Dr. Feld (Carell), and Arnold is still hostile. Recalcitrant. But Kay is insistent and open, and Dr. Feld is patient and skilled. Together they begin to bring Arnold around, and the therapy begins.
Of course this consists of frank conversations and… “Sexercises”.
Yes, at the core of the comedy of “Hope Springs” is sex over 60. And Streep and Jones get all the mileage they can out of it. They both are completely willing to commit to the (mildly) risqué material, and use their considerable comedic talents to great effect. They suffer false starts, sudden stops, embarrassments, and miscommunications. They touch on each others boundaries and insecurities. The audience goes along for the ride as the two of them try to get it on and/on broaden their horizons, yet have to approach each other more carefully than a couple of porcupines.
The comedy is certainly there, but it’s also a romantic drama, with Streep and Jones creating believable characters that the audience can invest in. Streep plays Kay as a mildly flustered, slightly shy, but determined woman. She’s dissatisfied with her marriage, but still loves her husband, so she’s resolute that something has to change. Jones plays Arnold as the ultimate curmudgeon. He doesn’t want any part of this, but doesn’t want to lose his wife, so he plays along, albeit reluctantly. Carell is excellently cast as a patient, understanding, occasionally bemused therapist helping them through their issues. The three of them lend the movie a depth and quality that lesser talents wouldn’t be able to. I wouldn’t exactly predict Oscar noms for either Jones and Streep, but if they eventually happen, it wouldn’t surprise me.
If I had one major issue with the movie, it’s that the balance of the tone between drama and comedy is slightly tipped in favor of drama, particularly in the third act. It’s a fine line to walk, but the movie was very funny and quite charming when it was being lighthearted. Not that it wasn’t good when it took itself a more seriously, but it was definitely at its best when it was going for laughs.