Hollywood doesn’t particularly favor movies about people of a ‘certain age’, and that’s why the release of Hope Springs on DVD is such good news. The misleading trailer and the sunlit cover of the movie detract from its value and worth. Disguised as a comedy and featuring a few ‘younger audience’ hooks (threesomes, oral sex at the movies) it’s a no bullshit adult drama about people who don’t know how to love each other anymore after 31 years of marriage but sure as hell want to try.
It’s not that Kay (Meril Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) don’t love each other. They do, in their own zombie-like fashion, by taking care of things and giving each other presents such as cable subscriptions but they haven’t slept in the same bed for years, and touching each other is as awkward as rubbing against someone’s privates in public transport by accident. Eek.
Kay is devastated by this. She is not like one of those women who don’t pretend everything is fine, and she is not one of those other women who defend this type of existence as the only marriage one can expect after 31 years. She is a fighter, so she books an intensive therapy getaway in Maine with the marvellous marriage-patching shrink Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell), and tells Arnold to be there. Arnold’s quiet indignation is hilarious yet frightening; he simply doesn’t get what it is Kay wants from him, oblivious to how torn apart and unwanted she feels. Yet he takes that ride to the airport, grumbling ‘I hope you’re happy’, and spreading his negative vibes left and right.
Tommy Lee Jones has that unique talent of being funny without ‘doing’ anything. He is awkward and funny here, but he goes deep too, and is really the driving force of Hope Springs. The contradictions in the character of Arnold are the source of tragedy for Kay. He says he loves her but touching her seems to turn him off. He says her plan is crazy but then he goes through with it, showing that he does care. The movie plays with expectations, and just after we laugh heartily comes a scene where we get a taste of Kay’s despair and loneliness. Hope Springs rings true, especially in the intimate scenes where sex doesn’t look like the Olympic gymnastics team warming up – for a change.
Even though the first therapy sessions seem to be unproductive and painful, soon enough Kay is learning to perform blowjobs on a stock of bananas and Arnold is bullying a restaurant employee for a reservation. The film is totally engaging, and we are rooting for the couple. This is one of those movies where we know the ending, but are still very happy to see all the proceedings unfold. Steve Carell gives it a warmth that he showcased in Seeking a Friend For The End of the World, another movie about love that defies convention and what is ‘funny’. In Hope Springs Kay and Arnold find what they want but not without a few bumps in the road for verisimilitude’s sake.
The DVD contains a few amazing extras such as an audio commentary from Director David Frankel (who did the fabulous The Devil Wears Prada with Streep). “Inside the Perfect Movie Marriage: Meryl Streep & Tommy Lee Jones” (4 minutes) contains interviews with the two leads about the movie and relationships (which is almost unthinkable for the usually elusive and mum Jones). “Exploring the Scene – Alternate Takes Gallery” (17 minutes) is dedicated to showing the actors trying out takes for different scenes. And there is also a 5-minute gag reel – enough for the fans of Hope Springs to be happy with the purchase.
Verdict: Hope Springs is a must see for aspiring and accomplished actors because Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones give one of their best performances here. It’s a solid film about relationships and all the pain and joy they bring.