Sep 3, 2012

[Movies] Hope Springs (2012)

I love Meryl Streep.

It sounds rather campy to say it that way or perhaps I'm just being a "traditionalist" in my support for her acting career, but I stand by my statement that she's still one of the best actresses around. And few can ever come close of even thinking of matching the artistry that she brings to the screen.

And while this isn't quite the typical movie that I'd aim to see while still in theaters, Meryl sort of breaks down that barrier for me more often than not. Plus I ended up watching this movie with my mother (of all people!) which certainly made for an interesting afternoon.

Thankfully, this movie wasn't just another sappy romantic comedy involving an older couple and related antics. It was certainly still on the smarter side of the comedic spectrum, although I'll admit there were quite a few parts of it that didn't quite work to my satisfaction.

Synopsis: Hope Springs is a 2012 directed by David Frankel of The Devil Wears Prada fame. The screenplay was written by Vanessa Taylor.

The movie centers around the older coupe of Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones). Both still work but their children are already grown and with families of their own thus they have the house to themselves these days. But as is the case with many couples, that spark of physical attraction or the perceived need for physical intimacy has died down to the point that they now sleep in separate bedrooms. While they remain devoted to one another, Kay feels that their marriage is missing something significant.

One thing leads to another and Kay learns of a Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell), who offers "intensive couples counseling) from his practice in a remote coastal town in Maine. Arnold is initially against the idea but eventually goes along given Kay had already booked him a plane ticket to go see Dr. Feld. Thus the movie plays out as we sort of "sit-in" with the two as they go through Dr. Feld's sessions as he slowly unravels what made their relationship work and when the fire died down.

Now one of the things that I love most about Meryl Streep is her amazing range in terms of her performances. It's as if she totally reinvents herself for each and every role thus you will never ever make the mistake of confusing one character for another. And her portrayal of Kay as this mousy, kind-hearted and loving, doting wife was just worlds away from her stronger roles like in The Devil Wears Prada or even the confidence she had in Julie and Julia. And to be such a practically innocent and sometimes naive character does make for an interesting change of pace for her.

Of course Tommy Lee Jones gets to be Tommy Lee Jones here, which means a lot of complaining, shouting and cursing in his usual fashion. And while this sometimes paints the picture that he's a one-trick pony, but he is able to portray Arnold well enough such that you come to understand where a lot of his anger and resentment comes from. Plus he's starting to look like the old man in Up.

The casting choice that I did not understand was Steve Carell as Dr. Feld. It's not that he was bad in his role - he just wasn't very exceptional. I've come to expect a lot from the man whether in the fields of comedy or drama. And this role just felt sort of beneath his skill level. He certainly did well as their therapist but I felt the role could have gone to any number of actors. When you involve Carell, you kind of expect more intelligent comedy woven into his "straight man" routine, if you get my drift. But he was just largely serious and senstive which was okay but not quite pushing the limits for him. Or maybe that's just me.

I love how the movie is able to tackle such a complex concept as the way intimacy fades from a relationship and the struggle to bring it back. It takes more than just one romantic evening with flowers and chocolates to remedy that sort of thing. And even at the end of the movie you know that you can't quite expect an instantly happy ending. Thus we are reminded that relationships are very complex things that need a lot of work to maintain. It's not always automatically happily ever after at the snap of a finger. You need to invest time and effort into resolving differences and making the appropriate compromises.

Hope Springs is a lovely movie and a quaint reminder of how relationships need some help from time to time. Thus it rates 4 subtle mouth and eye movements by Meryl Streep that convey so much meaning out of a possible 5.

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