Release Date: September 14th, 2012
Director: David Frankel
Starring: Meryl Street, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carrell, Elisabeth Shue
Middle-aged, middleclass, middlebrow dramedy Hope Springs sees the pairing of heavyweights Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in a film that promises to address some often taboo and emotive themes, but unfortunately wraps them in a thoroughly anodyne, fluffy blanket of bland.
Focusing on the dysfunctional, near defunct marriage of the conservative Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) as they go through the mind-numbing routine of the latter stages of a lengthy partnership now built on practicality rather than passion, Hope Springs strikes an initially melancholic tone. Starved of any romance or even meaningful conversation with her golf-obsessed, distant partner, Kay enrols them in an intensive, week-long therapy session run by unorthodox Dr Feld (Steve Carrell) in the titular, picturesque and pun-tastic Maine retreat. Bags packed and flights booked, the couple head-off to rediscover their spark, Arnold vocal in his dismissal of the trip’s merits and denial that anything is even wrong in their pseudo-relationship.
With players such as these on-board, the picture was never going to be entirely without merit. Streep is dependably on-the-money as the frustrated, mousey Kay; Jones excels as her curmudgeonly spouse, securing the best lines as he mumps and grumps his way around the cutsey township and bats back probing questions from Carrell’s oddly creepy counsellor. A shame then that they’re let down by Vanessa Taylor’s script ultimately pulling its punches and some terribly flat, cliché-riddled direction from The Devil Wears Prada’s David Frankel.
The central conceit of an older couple re-evaluating and re-igniting their sex life is a bold and welcome theme for a mainstream comedy to tackle; a rightly or wrongly unspoken and uncomfortable topic that deserves to be more thoroughly addressed with the game acting talent on show. Though occasionally delving into honest discussion that adds emotional heft and insight into how the couple’s physical connection deteriorated, or whether it was even that successful in the first place, one can’t help but feel the filmmakers are terrified of things getting a bit too icky and affecting for a multiplex audience. This is particularly disappointing from Taylor, whose work on the ferociously frank and touching HBO drama Tell Me You Love Me suggests her to be the perfect scribe to tackle such material.
Trite in its conclusions, with a soundtrack so insipid one would be forgiven for thinking it satirical, Hope Springs has enough charm in its lead performances and their often amusing back-and-forth to offer diversion of an evening… but what an opportunity missed.