This is not Oscar season, and no movie released on August 8th is supposed to be award worthy. This is the month of action and shtick. Yet, “Hope Springs,” which didn’t look so promising on the outside, turns out to be a lovely winner. David Frankel, who made “The Devil Wears Prada,” returns again with Meryl Streep, this time opposite Tommy Lee Jones. Where “Prada” was full of guffaws and punchlines, “Hope Springs” turns out to be what we used to called serio-comedy. It’s serious, but with well placed laughs. What really makes it stand out is the restraint throughout–where it could be maudlin or cliched, “Hope Springs” has the lightest touch.
I guess the actors–Streep, Jones and Steve Carell–really make the difference. Streep and Jones are Kay and Arnold Soames, married 31 years, living in Omaha. All the passion has gone out of their marriage. They sleep in separate rooms now that the kids are gone. Kay, realizing that her life is at a standstill, brings Arnie to a week long intensive couples therapy in Maine run by a famed shrink, played by Carell. Hilarity does not ensue. They do not meet the Fokkers or any other colorful characters. Carell, as Dr. Feld, is straightforward and honest. This is not a comedy about marriage camp.
Indeed, there are plenty of nice laughs that all make sense. But Kay and Arnie have real, relate-able problems. Streep and Jones, who are in almost every scene together, not only have chemistry. It’s like they’re bring all their collective experience to this relationship. It’s easy now to say “Meryl Streep is great.” Yes, she’s great. But what she does in inventing Kay– unlike Margaret Thatcher and Julia Child, Kay is fictional–is really genius. Her entire demeanor and look, her voice, her walk, are a whole construct. She’s never wrong. It’s like watching Vladimir Horowitz play the piano. I guess she’ll be nominated for everything. Who cares now? Streep is beyond that.
And Tommy Lee Jones is perfection as the curmudgeonly husband who’s living in fear but can’t express it. We know him, He’s our neighbor. But he’s also not someone you’ve really seen on screen before, except maybe glimpses of him in Jones’s role in “Company Men.” When Jones and Streep are sitting on opposite ends of Carell’s couch, watch Jones try to escape into a corner of it. It’s very subtle, and very rich.
So “Hope Springs.” Big Sony is bringing this out on August 8th. A story about a pair of 60 year olds. No unclothed sex. No cursing. No action. It’s a movie for adults. If you miss this film in theaters, you’ll regret it.