Hope Springs may not appeal to the young but older auds may find plenty to cheer about. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep have magnificent chemistry as a married couple struggling to save their thirty year marriage.
This is the role that Jones seems born to play despite his usual sourpuss performances; he’s still sour, but uses it to point to deeper, festering issues in a truly uniquely and intimately human way. This is the most naked performance he’s given in recent years, and I don’t mean without clothes.
Streep is – what else - perfection as his unhappy, but optimistic, perpetually smiling wife. She has a powerful commitment to this role – she’s frazzled, heavy, her hair is a fright and her wardrobe is a mess. She speaks in the tiny voice of a woman who hasn’t been paid much attention, even though she proves herself to be heroically capable. It’s just never come up before because their lives have been so routine and barren and he’s in charge.
She feels alone, that they have lost each other even though they share a roof, if not a bed. He ignores her and responds to her brave, once in four years request for sex, by recoiling as though she has lost her mind.
She hears of a sex therapy getaway week in New England and books tickets for them. He refuses to go, she heads out alone but guilt drives him to the airport just in time to join her. Their therapist is an encouraging, interested and engaged Steve Carrell and he’s great this way. Who knew?
Things get off to a bad start as he shuts down completely, writing all of this sex talk as nonsense. Every day “on the couch” is a trial for him and he wants out, but something keeps him going and that’s his wife’s hope for a better future together.
He even finally consents to some exercises with her as the therapist’s behest, holding and touching one another taking baby steps towards physical intimacy. It’s absolutely painful to witness his horror at these experiments. Their discomfort becomes ours. But the fact that they hang in is epic.
Streep’s efforts are heartfelt yet awkward. Her “sex”ercises are hysterical, because of her character’s deep innate shyness. She takes a banana, glances at her how-to book, and unconsciously chomps a big bite out of it.
And some of their exercises together are heartbreaking. Finally some truths begin to emerge as to what happened between them, but even as they take a step forward, they go two back. It’s life’s rich pageant for them.
This is an incredibly humane story told by two gifted actors in a situation that will reverberate with some. It’s bold to make a film for people beyond middle age but expect more of them. The demographics point to it, especially with the success of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and in Europe and soon to be here, And What If We Lived Together.
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35mm comedy drama
Written by Vanessa Taylor
Directed by David Frankel
Opens: Aug 8
Runtime: 100 minutes
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving sexuality