Having seen the trailer for Hope Springs (which featured some of the film’s funny moments), and noting that the film starred Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell, I was expecting a romantic comedy. And no doubt the DVD case and some reviews will refer to Hope Springs as a very funny (maybe even “hilarious”) film and use the word ‘comedy’. This is a marketing ploy designed to attract the masses who are apparently looking for escapist comedies. But as the young couple sitting in front of us in the theatre discovered (to their obvious disappointment), Hope Springs is NOT a comedy. For us, if not for the masses, this was a GOOD thing.
Hope Springs, directed by David Frankel, tells the story of a sixty-ish Omaha couple whose 31-year-old marriage, while superficially solid, is obviously struggling. Kay and Arnold have not had sex, or even slept in the same bed, in over five years. Kay gets tired of the same old same old and books a week in small-town Maine to get some intensive couples’ counselling from Dr. Feld (Carell). Arnold has no interest in this whatsoever, but reluctantly accompanies Kay, and their adventure begins.
Until the credits roll, Steve Carell doesn’t utter a single funny line. He plays this one straight and does a commendable job. Streep is always good and Jones is extraordinary in a very untypical role. While Hope Springs is a relatively light film and contains a fair bit of subtle humour, it works because it takes itself and its subject seriously. It is slow-paced, intelligent, remarkably frank and has a lot to say about how long-married couples communicate, especially about sex.
While Kathy and I are MUCH younger than the couple in the film, we have been married even longer (must have been an elementary school marriage) and could identify with some of the couple’s struggles (though thankfully not all of them). This is a film that will appeal primarily to those who have been married for at least ten or more years or who are over forty (unlike The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, another film about sixty-somethings, which could appeal to young adults). And I do recommend it to all such people, but not without some qualifications.
For all its strengths (and it certainly exceeded my expectations), Hope Springs has a fatal flaw: it tries to combine a serious, slow-paced honest film with ‘Hollywood’. I’m not saying such a thing is impossible or that Hope Springs doesn’t make a valiant effort, but this is a very difficult thing to accomplish. What such a serious film needs is the raw emotion and sting that would have been present in most independent or foreign films with this theme. Without it, Hope Springs lacks the passion and subtlety that would have left a lasting impression (and probably left viewers feeling drained). Still, for Hollywood, this is an impressive and refreshing effort and I give Hope Springs a solid ***. My mug is up.