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Review: 'Hope Springs'

Streep and Jones are a couple deep in marital woes.

I wish I hadn’t seen Hope Springs. Yes, my sad confessional. I’ve hated movies, walked out on many, cursed and ranted and raged about others, but I can’t recall ever being so thoroughly mired in the tedium of the moment, that I wished I was anywhere else. It’s not just a simple question of ennui, although I experienced that in spades throughout the scant 92 minutes running time. For me, it was an increasingly sinking feeling of witnessing yet again, the demise of the serious “adult” Hollywood film. 

I read in an interview that Tommy Lee Jones agreed to the film just for the chance to co-star with Meryl Streep. Who wouldn’t run to see these two sterling examples of “Hollywood Royalty"?  I was certainly primed and pumped and grateful for only the second film this summer (after The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) in wide release, NOT another teen or pre-teen over-hyped, big-budget franchise redux. 

  • Hope Springs is one of the movies playing this week at .

So, what went wrong? On the page, the enterprise was praise-worthy; a serious look into a couple’s mid-life struggle to recapture some romance, purpose and even (God Forbid!) sex into their 30 year marriage. The kids have grown and fled, he and she still gainfully employed. Ingmar Bergman did it brilliantly in Scenes from a Marriage, albeit from a 1970’s Scandinavian perspective quite alien to the zeitgeist of 21st Century America.  

“La Streep” has proven time and time again that she can play anything and the blasphemous thought crossed my mind during the screening I attended that maybe the problem was that the actor was too good at portraying a not very interesting woman. We don’t go to the movies to see reality, we go to escape it or at least have it portrayed in a unique, amusing or intellectually challenging manner: Woody Allen is the undisputed master at this over his long, distinguished career. 

We first see Streep’s Kay mussing and fussing with her hair in a nightgown about to enter the “separate” bedroom of husband Arnold for yet apparently another of many failed attempts at distracting him from his Golf Digest for a night of passion. It’s a lost cause, as we see from the oft-repeated visual metaphor of Kay preparing a single egg and strip of bacon for Arnold’s breakfast (HE, buried in the newspaper, ‘natch). 

Her epiphany occurs at a Barnes & Noble where she comes across a book written by marriage guru, Dr. Feld (Steve Carell). After a great deal of resistance, Arnold finds himself on a plane with his wife, bound for the picture-perfect Maine village where the therapist offers week-long intensives for couples who have long lost their way in and out of the bedroom. 

Kudos to director David Frankel and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor for exploring an area left untouched in mainstream “popular” movies. Good intention alone does not make up for the tedium of endless, lugubrious scenes of Kay and Arnold on the coach opposite the unbearably smug, God-like Dr. Feld as they, with understandable trepidation, try to dig deep into their locked psyches and arrive at some truths that will indeed set them free. 

Carell, so wonderful playing against type as the suicidal gay Proust scholar in Little Miss Sunshine, here is humorless and stiff. When Arnold asks (more than once) for his money back, I was in complete agreement.  

Expect no cures on this dreary excursion. 

Jeff Klayman is an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced in New York, Los Angeles and London. He also wrote the screenplay for the independent film Adios, Ernesto, directed by Mervyn Willis.

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