If you think it’s tough to think or talk about old people having sex, try being one of said old people. “Hope Springs” pairs two Oscar-winning and well-aging talents in Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as Kay and Arnold, who endure the ups and downs of couples counseling with the main goal of rekindling their romance in mind.
This is not Arnold’s idea of course. He’s the pragmatic type and a textbook cynic that ought to remind you of at least one older man that you know if not your own father. It’s Kay who wants to break from their routine and complete lack of intimacy and who must utilize passive-aggressive tactics to con Arnold into joining her on this trip to the Maine town of Hope Springs where a renowned couples counselor (Steve Carell) will give them one-on-one time.
The film reunites Streep with director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”), but this is not a comedic affair. The script from television writer Vanessa Taylor (“Everwood,” “Game of Thrones”) steers clear of the obvious jokes of an older, oblivious generation trying to be hip, and mostly sidesteps the awkward humor of seniors attempting to be intimate. Other than Streep’s trip to the store to buy bananas, the film is decidedly dramatic, a showcase for its actors to show us what a struggling marriage really looks like.
And it’s not that Kay and Arnold have irreconcilable differences, but that Kay sees a problem where Arnold doesn’t. The onus is then on him to recognize that her unhappiness is a sign of a problem between the two of them. As an outsider, when you consider that they sleep in different rooms and don’t touch each other, it’s easy to pick up on the warning signs, but Streep and Jones are so convincing that you relate to how two people could live like that for year and not suspect that something was wrong.
Carell’s character talks them through a lot of things in his scenes and assigns them intimacy exercises. That’s it. His casting is a tremendous waste, and all he has to do is sound like a therapist who gives a damn and knows what he’s talking about.
Ultimately, too much of “Hope Springs” is spent in therapy. Jones and Streep give convincing reactions to the questions and what else they’re asked to think about, but the final product is a cinematic depiction of couples therapy for seniors. The script tells it how it is, but to keep the dramatic tension going, Taylor inserts scenes in which Arnold and/or Kay completely freak out when things look to be going well. The emotional ups and downs are a roller coaster of greatly exaggerated proportions. Doing so does avoid the typical rom-com arc, so you won’t exactly roll your eyes at “Hope Springs,” but this presentation invites a microscope on the degree of realism.
The degree of sincerity in the acting outweighs that of the plot. “Hope Springs” is in essence the case study of a relationship, and as such its leads need to be convincing individually and as a couple. Streep and Jones do this touchingly, even though the twists in the plot throw a great deal of challenges their way. They — and to its credit, the film — manage to awaken the emotionally in tune and bold romantic in all of us, though perhaps that should be left for seniors to determine.
Directed by David Frankel
Written by Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell