Hope Springs – 2012
Director David Frankel
Starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Jean Smart, Mimi Rogers, Elisabeth Shue, Ben Rappaport, Marin Ireland, Becky Ann Baker
Screenplay Vanessa Taylor
I always thought that separate beds in a marriage was a fiction of television. Of course Ozzie and Harriet could not be seen in the sack together. It was the 1950’s. Hope Springs shows a couple Kay and Arnold Soames (Streep and Jones) who have taken this concept further. They sleep in completely separate bedrooms. How long this has been is not clear. They are polite to each other, more by habit than anything. It’s a married life on pause.
The situation seems to work well for Arnold. It is low commitment and max benefit. He has a live in maid. Kay is another story. There is no shortage of meaning when she explains to their kids that their 31 year anniversary is an “off-year.”
The purchase of a book by author Dr. Bernie Feld (Carell) leads Kay to buy a session retreat of intense marriage counseling with Feld in Maine. For the ever nervously smiling Kay, this is a big step. For Arnold, this is a minor crisis. The money is already spent and Kay is not changing her mind. The only thing worse than admitting there is a problem is wasting money.
The first session ends predictably and the second leads to talk about their sleeping situation. The doctor prescribes…hugs. Arnold feels like he is being forced, like a “trained monkey.” Kay informs him that he is a bully and takes off. Wheels start turning…”Everybody Plays the Fool” plays in the background. Slowly, like an iceberg, feelings begin to surface. There is so much under the serene waters.
There could not have been a better choice for the Soames than Streep and Jones. For Streep, the role is a unique one. Sensitive and silently expressive, she is a marm peeking out from behind glasses. She is overly considerate of her husband. Jones routine is just a touch away from his normal, grouchy self. He is not really a mean guy, but he inadvertently lacks consideration, but really only because he’s been allowed to slack off.
It’s easy to identify with bits of their dilemma. Every marriage has gaps created when one or the other decides that there are certain things they might like are not worth the fight that night, the next day or perhaps ever. There are times when I realized I missed an opportunity to show my wife what she means to me and I think, “Well, there’s next time.” It does not feel like taking one for granted in the moment.
Carell is as effective as I have seen him in a straight dramatic role. His stare is less desperate and more knowing (and caring, as always). He is calm and patient for things to draw their own conclusion. Any more of a push from his direction could have thrown the story off course. He is a mirror with an undeniable reflection.
“He is everything. But I am really alone.”
There is comfort and pain in familiarity. There is anxiety in the potential for new pain in change. The toughest thing is to move in one direction or the other.
These moves are somewhat of a mixed bag. There is the requisite buying of the bananas and the self-help books that come across as rote. Then there is an exquisite scene of Streep intently reading the book and taking a small bite from the banana and thinking nothing of it. This something that most other actors would have messed up, but Streep makes it wonderfully human.
One could have done without the multiple scenes referencing phallic pleasures. It is an important thing, to be sure, but it as not as important for me to see Tommy Lee Jones in the throes of anything. Suffice to say, it is a necessary and important message to show how important it is to be on the floor of a good hotel room, as compared to the bed of the EconoLodge. Even then, sometimes biology steps in between fantasy and reality.
The film’s biggest mis-step happens here. Kay’s reaction to a bump in the road seems forced, even if it stays within the character of one who has let herself be pushed out of the bedroom. Granted, it’s not something that is easy to discuss, even in the best terms, walking without discussing it seems a little overboard. Without this, though, there would be no false crisis and, hence, no full version of an Anne Lennox song. Thank God there was no run to the airport.
The direction is spot on and the weak spots in the script are overcome by the simply magnificent acting. This movie would have been an impenetrable paper bag with lesser talent.
The movie was more serious than commercials implied. There were almost no laughs. There are more than a few smiles by the time credits roll. It’s all about less golf and better gifts that are not for the house. And of course, it has to end with Van Morrison. At least it was a happy song.
(**** out of *****)