Top Notch Acting Key to Hope Springs
HOPE SPRINGS (2012/IN THEATERS) If you’ve seen the previews for this film (and how could you have missed them?), you have already seen some of the funniest parts of the movie. But that’s OK because you’re in for a treat just watching two of our greatest actors delivering big time on screen. The film is an interesting mix of seriousness, laughter and sheer awkwardness, willing to pose realistic questions about sex and sexual attraction between two older, long-married people. As the movie opens, we meet Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) and we see their daily routine: as he reads the paper, she makes him one egg (fried) and one slice of bacon—the same every morning; he gives her a peck on the check and leaves for the office, briefcase in hand. After dinner each night, he falls asleep in the lounge chair with the golf channel playing in the background. She yearns for more and looks wistfully at him before nudging him upstairs to bed, where they sleep in separate rooms as they have for ages. The scenes are meant to look familiar and they are—here’s a couple whose children are grown and who have fallen into a routine that never changes. So, imagine Arnold’s surprise when Kay confronts him with an airline ticket and a challenge to join her in the quaint village of Great Hope Springs, Maine, where she has booked a $4,000 counseling week with a specialist in “repressed marriages.” Here’s where the movie kicks into gear. Steve Carrell is surprisingly well cast as Dr. Feld, who gently but firmly prods his clients into revealing their deepest secrets, fears and desires. Feld assigns Kay and Arnold sexual tasks every night—some leading to truly funny scenes, others not funny at all. I was surprised at what an unusually honest film this is and how it basically refuses to take the “cute” way out in the standard Hollywood style. And what makes it all work is the fabulous, understated acting from both Streep and Jones. They have left any vanity behind, looking over 60 for sure, slightly over-weight and with plenty of wrinkles—tough for those sex scenes. She creates a combination of quiet, mouse-y-ness and serious determination while he has the challenge of playing a man whose exterior looks confident but who is masking insecurity by withdrawing. And they make it all feel real, using small gestures and quiet looks, slight smiles, sad eyes—you get the picture. They are terrific and the film would not work without their consummate skill. Not the greatest movie of the year, but definitely worth seeing, even if you haven’t hit 60 yet!