It isn’t every day you get the likes of Meryll Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in a romantic comedy, even the very idea seems like two actors doing a bit of slumming, but instead they make “Hope Springs” really pop with an honest, funny, and moving portrayal of a marriage on the rocks.
They play Kay and Arnold, a couple married thirty-one years who have hit a bit of a rough patch. They’ve been sleeping in separate beds. When Kay tries to remedy this, Arnold uncomfortably makes any excuse to avoid confronting the problem. The only anniversary presents being bought are things for the house, like a new water heater, and Arnold seems content laying back in his recliner and watching shows about golf. Sounds familiar?
Kay is worried and wants a change and so drags a reluctant Arnold to Hope Springs, Maine to see marriage counselor Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell). Feld sees marriage like a nose, you have to break it in order to reset it. His two-pronged approach is talk therapy and “exercises” that take the couple out of their comfort zone.
From the first scene to last, this is a movie that is completely controlled by two actors at the top of their game. Streep and Jones nail every nuance of this couple perfectly; the alienation that has crept into their lives, the funny way they bicker, the reactions to things that till now have been left unsaid, and their relative unease but adventurous spirit in trying anything if it means their marriage might be saved.
Streep gives a performance of vulnerability and tenderness, at times heartbreaking while at others probably the most compelling I’ve ever seen her. And Jones is at his crabby best, playing a man you really need to pry the feelings out of. His uncomfortable responses to anything intimate or sexual are priceless but he also gives Arnold a kind of wounded pride that makes him sympathetic. Carell is on hand really to play his scenes earnestly, stepping back and allowing Streep and Jones to do the heavy lifting.
Vanessa Taylor’s clever screenplay combines hilariously awkward sexual situations with funny dialogue but above all, this is a movie about talking, about peeling back layers of a relationship and really finding honest and meaningful discoveries. That’s a rare and beautiful thing in a rom-com these days, as is seeing two marquee actors giving performances like they’ve been married for years. “Hope Springs” is a pleasant surprise that should have couples, either newlywed or seasoned, laughing, thinking, and feeling the love all the way through.