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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: Hope Springs

I went to see Hope Springs this afternoon with my mother, who has been married to my father 44 years. Kay and Arnold, Meryl Streep's and Tommy Lee Jones' characters respectively, have only been married for 31 years, a fact which Arnold slings around throughout the film in order to justify his opinion that nothing's wrong with his marriage.

If you've seen the previews, you know why-- as could be expected without seeing the previews, he is the unwilling half of the couple. He is, frankly, an asshole. Not a charming curmudgeon, though the packed audience (we'd intended to see the film earlier in the day, but that showing was sold out) with a mean age of about 50 years laughed at his antics in shock that he could be that much of a...well, asshole. And Kay is a smiling doormat of a wife, before she decides to fund a trip to Maine with her own money so that the two of them can go through "intensive" marriage counseling with Steve Carell's character, Dr. Feld. And then she actually returns to doormat status for a good portion of the film after that.

Also as you might expect, it's a tough job to condense a "we have to fix our marriage" story into 100 minutes and the movie does fail at that, although Streep, Jones, and Carell do so well in their roles that you almost don't care. I am rather bitter about a couple of fully clothed sex scenes-- not that I wanted to see a full-on nude sex scene while sitting right next to my mother, but because it reeked of "We don't trust our audience not to be grossed out by showing people older than 40 or so having sex." This is a movie with extensive conversation between those people about sex, but apparently including so much as fallen trousers on Jones or bare shoulders on Streep would be just too squicky. That actually means that the sex scenes are no less uncomfortable in the way that sex scenes can be uncomfortable; they just come accompanied by the bizarre conclusion that the reason the sexual aspect of Kay and Arnold's marriage has been so abysmal might just be that they insist on all sexual activity be performed while covered well enough to gain admittance to a Hasidic business in Brooklyn.

I'd gone into the movie thinking that Steve Carell would be playing the marriage counselor comically, and was very glad to find that wasn't the case. When Arnold makes fun of him late in the move by impersonating him, it's difficult to tell at first who he is pretending to be and what he's trying to mock...but that gives you a further indication of Arnold's character, which is a refreshing change from the "severely grumpy for no apparent reason" state that he inhabits for most of the film. Don't get me wrong; Jones is excellent at that...I just wish he'd been given more to do, more evident motivation for what he does. Really that's a small quibble, but it does make Kay's dogged devotion to him seem mysterious. The power imbalance that exists between them when this story begins clearly wasn't there when the relationship began and the interactions between Kay and Arnold don't really explain it, though they do focus a spotlight on various places along the way where things went wrong, where one party didn't make his/her intentions and devotion clear to the other, with unfortunate consequences to come.

In that regard, Kay and Arnold's relationship is quite generic-- their problems are commonplace, even old-fashioned. When "forced intimacy" (Arnold's term) is prescribed by their counselor, they are more awkward than the most unpracticed couple of teenagers, which is hard to believe even of a husband and wife who have slept in separate bedrooms for years. Most of the audience laughed at these instances, a blend of humor and sympathy, but not too much empathy I would guess. The score is cloying and at times very heavy-handed, but it certainly does its job. All of the supporting actors are wonderful-- and all are given names and categorizations even if those things are never stated in the film. Elizabeth Shue is Karen, The Bartender. Ann Harada is Ann, The Happy Wife. Damian Young is Mike, The Innkeeper. And so on.

In sum? I'd say-- see it, with your parent(s). Or with your children, depending. It might not be the most original of stories, but that could actually be a strength given how expertly it is told. See it, if you're older and married or ever plan on being so. It's a view on life that is worth gazing through, especially if it has never occurred to you to do so before. As Arnold notes at one point, a lot of things change in a relationship over time. New elements arise, and others disappear. This movie is a reminder to pay attention.

1 comment:

  1. Streep and Jones grace the cover of the most recent issue of AARP magazine with the banner type: "...on keeping passion alive". The actual article, though, is typical of the generic pablum generated for we short-attention-span Baby Boomers, contains no really useful information other than being a wealthy celebrity does wonders for forestalling the aging process.

    From your review of the film I am sure my wife and I would find it falling somewhere between mildly amusing and outright boring.

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