Friday, August 10, 2012



Call the wistful “Hope Springs” a comedy of knowing laughter.  Daring to portray a long-married couple old enough to be wrinkled boomers, this sensitive film by David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”) is set in picturesque Great Hope, Maine.

One of those picture postcard perfect villages on the coast where everything looks old shoe comfortable.

Amid the quaintness of enduring shops and restaurants, grumpy corporate tax advisor Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) and determinedly sunny wife Kay (Meryl Streep) have to spend a week of  “intense marriage counseling” with the highly touted Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell).

It’s all her idea, of course, and he’s not the least bit happy about it.

While a stream of stereotypical sex problems and clichéd solutions runs through the script by first-time writer Vanessa Taylor, the willing talents of Streep, Jones and Carell lift this material to a highly satisfactory plane.

Frankel is a fantastic enabler, encouraging their commitment to these roles and staying out of their way. Streep, as always, throws herself into creating a deeply detailed personality.

Kay is one of those traditional wives who believe nobody should talk about sex in public, and when they do, only the most proper euphemisms are appropriate.

Arnold would rather not talk about sex at all. Not even think about it.  His idea of cultural enlightenment is watching instructional videos on the golf channel.

After 31 years of marriage, raising two children and all that, their beautiful home is empty and so are their lives. Arnold has the daily games of corporate one-upmanship to stimulate his ego and Kay works in a fashionable clothing boutique keeping the mannequins looking irresistible.

But at home…nothing. Without the kids to talk about, they have become isolated in their own thoughts. Kay feels this loneliness the most, and takes the first steps to do something about it.

It doesn’t take long to get all this set up, with Arnold all bluster and resistance while Kay works that traditional non-confrontational wife psychology to get what she wants.

The fun begins in the vigorously low-key office surroundings of their therapist.  Carell is excellent as the all-knowing observer whose therapy hinges on asking the most insightful questions at exactly the right time.

Sitting safely in the audience we can laugh as Kay and Arnold squirm to describe their feelings about oral sex, fantasy sex and “doing it” in public places (like a mostly empty art film theater).

What is nicest is how all these sensitive moments are handled with such good taste.  Fans of  the Judd Apatow school of crude comedies won’t have much patience with it, but all audiences of the appropriate age can identify with the delicately played out stale marriage humor.

For those couples in their 20s about to consider marriage, there is also some fresh food for thought.



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