After months of enduring films saturated with superheroes, explosions, car chases, profanity, sex, drugs, and aliens, I sat down to watch “Hope Springs,” the new drama/comedy starring Academy Award winners Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, hoping for a welcome change of pace from the plethora of mundane, mediocre, and sometimes downright moronic films that have dominated the big screen this summer.
AND I GOT IT!
What an incredibly refreshing treat it was to see a brilliantly acted film completely devoid of blood, violence, and pyrotechnics and also one that was consistently and concomitantly entertaining, romantic, humorous, and dramatic. “Hope Springs” is quite simply the best film I have seen so far this summer, and it is one of the classiest adult comedies to grace the silver screen in a very long time.
Meet Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones), Omaha residents who have been married for 31 years, who have two grown children, and who have become creatures of habit. Arnold is an accountant whose alarm goes off at 7 a.m. every day. He rises, gets dressed, and goes down to the kitchen, where Kay has two fried eggs, one strip of bacon, and a cup of coffee waiting for him. He eats with his nose in the morning newspaper and then leaves for work. When he returns home, he eats dinner, sits down in front of the TV set, and falls asleep watching the Golf Channel until Kay wakes him up. Then he trudges up to the guest room where he has been sleeping for years, goes to bed, and repeats the entire ritual the next day.
Whereas Arnold is content with his monotonous existence, Kay has been growing increasingly frustrated by what she now considers a stagnant marriage. She desperately wants a change in her relationship, but when she asks her best friend, Eileen (Jean Smart), whether or not it’s possible to rescue a foundering relationship, she’s discouraged by the following reply: “You marry whom you marry. You are who you are. It doesn’t change.”
In desperation, Kay goes to a bookstore and browses through the self-help section until she comes across a book titled “You Can Have the Marriage You Want” by Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell). Among the things she learns while reading the book is that Feld offers a counseling seminar for couples having marital difficulties for the nice little fee of $4,000. And so Kay taps into her savings account to pay for the sessions and the plane tickets to Great Hope Springs, Maine.
Naturally the curmudgeonly Arnold wants no part of the trip, but he ultimately capitulates and joins Kay for the trip. From this point on, much of the film takes place in Feld’s office, where he tries to help Kay and Arnold rekindle their relationship. Although he has an interesting way of approaching things (He likens a broken marriage to a deviated septum.), Feld takes his work very seriously, but it soon becomes clear to him that Arnold will be a real challenge when Feld says, “Kay and Arnold, I’m so glad you’re here.”
And Arnold replies, “Well that makes one of us.” “Hope Springs” is a truly delightful adult film that achieves a perfect blend of comedy and drama. Unlike many such movies these days, it never degenerates into inane silliness, and its serious segments are equally as effective as its humorous ones. Because so many scenes occur in Feld’s office, it could have become boring to watch so many counseling sessions, but the superior acting and the clever dialogue and repartee keep every scene fresh and entertaining.
Watching Streep and Jones work together is a real treat. Their chemistry is flawless, and their acting is so consistently brilliant that you soon forget you are watching two performers and become completely wrapped up and involved in the lives of Kay and Arnold. Both of them possess perfect comedic timing, and Streep’s ability to convey every possible human emotion without uttering a word surpasses adequate description. She can instill joy in you with one look and break your heart with another.
Most importantly, however, this film is so effective because Streep and Jones succeed beautifully in making us care about their respective characters. We feel Kay’s anguish, and Arnold’s stubbornness irritates us, but we like both of them and can’t help hoping that they will find a way to solve their problems.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Streep offered an insightful analysis of the relationship between Arnold and Kay. “You get acclimated, and I think people lose heart in themselves. You feel your own limits as time goes on, and it’s nice to have someone else to blame it on. There’s always one person who’s agitated and one who says, ‘It’s fine.’ The drama is getting the one character to move the other to a place where they both discover how much they need and love each other.”
Carell’s performance as the therapist also is quite excellent, and he plays the role totally straight. Although he is known mostly as a comedian, his part in this film is a serious one, and he handles it quite well, but much of the humor in the film evolves from the watching Kay and Arnold attempt to carry out the various exercises Feld assigns them.
It’s been so long since a movie like “Hope Springs” (Give it a final score of nine.) has graced the silver screen that I was beginning to think such films had become a lost art. But this one is so good that it has given me renewed optimism that we may see more like it in the near future. Let’s hope!