Hope Springs is a textbook case of false marketing. A quick glimpse of the trailer makes the latest film from director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) look like a syrupy sex romp with golden oldies Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Beneath the few slapstick jokes and sarcastic jibes, however, lies a clumsily mournful tale of relationship turmoil.
Streep plays 60-something housewife Kay. After a mundane 31st wedding anniversary with inscrutable husband Arnold (Jones), she books them into a weeklong intensive marriage counselling class in a little Maine port town called Hope Springs. After an argumentative journey, the pair share their marital gripes in front of the eager-eared psychologist Bernie Feld (a surprisingly straight-faced Steve Carell). It’s a last-ditched attempt to rekindle the fire of love, but is it already burned out?
Hope Springs is at its best during the counselling session scenes. Unfortunately, Feld then sends the couple out on repetitive intimacy exercises, which are gross attempts at failed bawdy comedy.
Short on laughs, Hope Springs is certainly not a dramatic heavy-hitter either. Although they are going through counselling, there is nothing titillating about their marriage: no misdemeanours or illegitimate love children, no cruel intentions … Their banality makes them a relatively realistic old couple, but not an interesting cinematic one.
The performances are perfectly serviceable, if stale. Kay is free-spirited, fun, and embodies that same level of independency that has made Streep such a versatile screen presence. Jones plays to type as the boring old fart Arnold, who is more content in staying in watching the Golf Channel than socialising with the outside world. Although they are trying to fix their marriage, I couldn’t help but want Kay to run away and be the uncompromising, fun character she is desperate to be.
Just like the director’s previous effort Marley & Me, Hope Springs fails to provide enough laughs for its audience to feel comfortable dealing with such an uncomfortable subject. The bungling script reduces the movie to nothing more than 100 minutes of old people bickering, crying and attempting to have sex. Let’s hope it doesn’t catch on.
Dir: David Frankel; US romcom, 2012, 100 mins; Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Mimi Rogers
Premiered November 15; Playing nationwide