Review of Hope Springs


Spectacular Cast Gives Hope to "Hope Springs"

-- Rating: PG-13 (mature thematic content involving sexuality)

Length: 100 minutes

Release Date: August 8, 2012

Directed by: David Frankel

Genre: Comedy / Drama

"Hope Springs" is not a romantic comedy. In fact, Kay and Arnold have been married for 30 years. They have settled into such a routine that they may not even know what romance is anymore. "Hope Springs" is, instead, an understated slice-of-life film. Both comedic highs and dramatic lows mark the course of the story, but overall it is the simple, all-too-common tale of love left by the wayside over years of benign neglect.

Director David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada") teams up with Meryl Streep ("It's Complicated") again on "Hope Springs," this time encouraging the Oscar-winning actress to play to her considerable strengths in subtlety and nuance. Kay is painfully lonely-a wife and mother who feels she's been cast aside in her own home.

Kay's husband, Arnold, portrayed gruffly and grumpily by Tommy Lee Jones ("The Fugitive"), has taken to enjoying television more than his wife's company. The two barely communicate with one another and certainly never kiss. They even sleep in separate bedrooms. But while Arnold is seemingly comfortable with their arrangement, Kay most certainly is not.

Enter Dr. Feld, played by an unusually deadpan Steve Carell ("Little Miss Sunshine"). Dr. Feld runs a week-long intensive couples' retreat in the tiny Maine town of Great Hope Springs. Kay wheedles Arnold into attending with her, and much of the movie takes place in sessions on Dr. Feld's couch. Many of the film's laughs are had here as well, as Kay and Arnold struggle to talk about delicate topics despite their discomfort.

The trailers for "Hope Springs" misrepresent the tone of the movie. "Hope Springs" is not "American Pie" for retirees. While occasional raunchy moments present themselves, the movie is neither focused on them nor relying on them for humor. Instead, they are absurd exercises performed by two people who have lost their way but are both trying to get back to each other.

The subject matter of the film had the potential to be clich├ęd, and Vanessa Taylor's script sometimes missteps. However, Frankel's careful direction of veteran stars Streep and Jones keeps audiences riveted despite minor flaws.

Star power is the driving force behind "Hope Springs." The sheer amount of talent assembled in the cast makes the film well worth watching, and the actors are all at the top of their game. Carell returns to serious acting with his turn as Dr. Feld and reminds viewers that he's much more than just a comedian. Jones uses his trademark gruffness to wonderful effect, so when Arnold does unleash a smile, the audience smiles right along with him. Streep avoids going too over-the-top with comedic gags, reverting to her roots and relying on gestures, body language, inflection, and facial expressions to portray the pain and frustration Kay feels.

Summer films are often geared toward younger audiences, and this makes "Hope Springs" a delightful change of pace for more mature audiences. Little effort is made to camouflage wrinkles or otherwise make Streep and Jones appear younger than their years, and the effect is a believable late-life couple, not so very different from your parents, your friends, your neighbors, or even yourselves. It is not going to be summer's big blockbuster hit, but it is an enjoyable film that is likely to stand the test of time.

Ultimately, anyone who has ever been in love will be able to relate to this movie. The simple act of yearning for the closeness that once came so easily is a tale as old as time. Like real life, "Hope Springs" doesn't have a pat, happy ending. Instead, Kay and Arnold learn to talk to each other and connect to each other again, choosing to put in the hard work that makes any relationship last.

With Jean Smart and Elisabeth Shue turning in small supporting roles in the film, it is filled with familiar faces and trusted talent who take the material they've been given and elevate it with elegant, spot-on performances. "Hope Springs" is not your ordinary love story, perhaps because it's actually the most ordinary love story of all. There are no wacky adventures or surprise plot twists. What "Hope Springs" does, and does well, is tell a love story everyone can understand, because everyone has lived it - what happens after happily ever after simply becomes boring.

"Hope Springs" is playing in theaters now and is well worth a view.

Rating: 3 out of 5