Hope Springs

Movie Review: Hope Springs

 

He is everything. But I’m… I’m really lonely. And to be with someone, when you’re not really with him can… it’s… I think I might be less lonely… alone.”

Meryl Streep, Hope Springs

 

Hope Springs reunites Meryl Streep with her The Devil Wears Prada director, whose two efforts, after Prada, without Streep have included Marley & Me and the below par The Big Year. While it is not completely accurate to say that with this movie David Frankel has achieved the same appeal and fun that Prada did, it is no less true that Springs is smart, poignant and thoughtful. While not boasting much in terms of plot or story, Hope Springs follows an elderly couple, Kay and Arnold Soames (played by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively) as they celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary without much ado. As is aptly said in the great HBO series Oz, nothing gets to a man than routine, same is the case with this marriage. While Kay and Arnold have a seemingly perfect marriage (stable, sustained, comforting) it is apparent that something is amiss. This is established with the very first scene when the audience learns that the spouses don’t even sleep in the same bed anymore. Now, that is food for thought, if any, in any marriage.

In comes the driving factor: Kay is lonely and sad. She wants to go back to the roots of their marriage, when the flame of passion was still alight and things hadn’t slumbered on so much. She is looking for the days gone and past, but she hopes to bring them back. She decides that they need a couple’s therapy session with a renowned psychiatrist Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) who resides in the faraway coastal town of Hope Springs. Arnold is skeptical and doesn’t want to go because according to him there is nothing wrong with their marriage. But he ultimately goes in order to comply with the wishes of his wife. He is at once not happy about paying so much money for something he does not believe will help them one bit. The sessions start and the couple are given certain acts to do, they are asked to open up about their marriage, talk about emotions, feelings and most importantly, sex.

Now that the basic premise has been established, let’s talk about the merits and demerits of the movie. Hope Springs is a light take on a dark matter. It deals with an important issue, and something which I believe is quite commonplace and not usually talked or wrote about. Harsh questions about marital bliss are put forth: does living with your partner for a long period of time automatically make a marriage happy? Is a long marriage necessarily happy? What happens when two people who have been together for such a long time find out that one of them is unbearably happy? This movie, while plays it by the book, is a good take on the “other” side of idealized romanticisms that all the teens think of about marriage. This other side is that when the fairy tale stops. When the happily-ever-after part is over and reality sinks in. When the routine starts eating off the happiness and the serenity.

The cons of the movie is the slow pacing of the movie, which thankfully is not such a big issue since the movie is just about 100 minutes long. Another thing is that it felt as if the director was too wary of taking risks. He kept it safe. Asking difficult questions and opting for easy answers is not a good direction for any movie. This movie doesn’t travel that road exactly, but does overlap with it quite a bit.

Performances are amazing all around. A movie, which is built on the strength of its characters, has to have a good cast in order to pull this off. Hope Springs is perfectly casted. Meryl Streep plays the role of a long suffering wife trapped in a marriage which seems, on the surface, a highly ideal one, but in reality is lacking. She is, in the beginning, meek, sad and lonely and by the end she is defiant and a woman who will do anything to make her marriage work after all these years. Her role reminded me a bit of her part in The Bridges of Madison County. She played a bored housewife in that one as well who indulges in an extramarital affair, lasting only four days. While she doesn’t have an affair in this movie, she sure is a bored aged wife. This might not be her best performance, but it is a great one nonetheless. One that will earn her another Academy Award Nomination, most probably.

Tommy Lee Jones is brilliant as the sour faced, slightly angry husband of Kay, who goes along with the therapy solely on the behest of his wife. While his character is not exactly a douchebag, it is easy to see why Kay feels lonely. Arnold is well set into the routine and doesn’t like to deviate from it. He is most uncomfortable sleeping in the same bed as his wife, he is thoroughly unhinged when the therapist suggests some sexercises and he is the one who constantly moans about how much money they are spending on these sessions. Lee Jones pulls this character off easily. He is rock solid, up against Streep, the heavyweight. At one moment he is gruff and rude and at the other, he is a sweet and caring husband who at last sees the plight of his wife.

The third and the last major role of the movie is that of the therapist, Dr. Feld. When I started watching the movie I thought Steve Carell was in it for the sake of laughs. That he was going to provide some humor in this “dramedy”. I was wrong. Carell’s performance is the biggest surprise of this movie. He is sober, calm, soothing, exactly what a therapist should be. Barely smiling, always serious, always talking business, Carell has entered the domain that Bill Murray entered with Lost in Translation. That domain being that of a comedic actor able to pull off a highly serious role. After this movie, no doubt should be in anybody’s mind about Carell’s acting chops. While he played less comic and more serious roles in movies like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Dan in Real Life, this is his most mature role to date and one that will be remembered as his demonstration in the dramatic actor category.

 

 

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