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"HOPE SPRINGS"
(2012) (Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A long-married couple sees a marriage counselor stemming from the wife wanting to reignite their relationship.
PLOT:
Kay (MERYL STREEP) and Arnold (TOMMY LEE JONES) have been married for 31 years, with two grown kids now out of the house. While they're civil toward each other, there's no romantic spark left in their relationship and after going through their normal daily routines, they sleep in separate rooms each night. Tired of that, Kay looks for some way to fix their marriage and thinks she's found it in a week-long couples program.

It's held at the Center For Intensive Couples Counseling run by Dr. Bernard Feld (STEVE CARELL) in Great Hope Springs, Maine, and Kay immediately buys admission and plane tickets for the program. Arnold, however, is less than excited about the notion, finding all sorts of things to complain about it, but he ends up reluctantly going along.

Dr. Feld tries to get to the bottom of what's causing their problems, and the discussion eventually turns to their sex life, or lack thereof, all of which makes Arnold very uncomfortable and more prone to complain. Yet, as the sessions continue, he finally starts to open up to suggestions and exercises that Dr. Feld proposes for the two spouses. Even so, and from that point on, it's uncertain whether all of that will save the marriage.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Hold on to 16 as long as you can
Changes come around real soon
Make us women and men
Oh yeah life goes on
Long after the thrill of livin' is gone.

John Mellencamp's 1982 ode to growing up, "Jack and Diane," obviously isn't one-hundred percent accurate for everyone, as there are certainly thrilling moments that come (and go) past the teen years. Yet, I certainly see the truth in those thoughts a lot more now at the age of 48 than I did in my freshman year in college when I had far less life experience to realize the truth to those lyrics.

The notion also holds true for many relationships. While it's been reported the more than 50% of marriages end in divorce, many continue on for decades. But for some, the passion that once sparked and sustained them in the early years evaporates due to day-to-day demands, certain routines setting in, age not always being kind to once youthful looks and waistline, etc., which often leaves couples feeling more like roommates than lovers.

That's the gist of "Hope Springs," a romantic dramedy named not only for the female protagonist's (the always reliable Meryl Streep) desire that such romance might be rekindled, but also for the little Maine town to which she near literally drags her reluctant, stick in the mud husband of 31 years (Tommy Lee Jones who can play deadpan sourpuss better than most anyone) to see a renowned marriage counselor (Steve Carell).

As directed by David Frankel ("Marley & Me," "The Devil Wears Prada") from a script from TV writer turned big screen scribe Vanessa Taylor (TV's "Game of Thrones," "Everwood"), the film offers few surprises in terms of how the plot unfolds and the characters react. And there are too many songs on the soundtrack (at least in the first half of the film) to tell the viewer what the characters are feeling and/or how we're supposed to react to that.

That said, the seasoned performers have no problem making one believe in them and what they're feeling. And those going through similar, real-life issues will likely recognize themselves and/or their significant others in those characters, perhaps see the error of their ways, and will likely hope their long-time partner has the same experience. Heck, if anything, two admissions tickets might just prove as beneficial as hundreds or thousands of dollars of marital therapy.

While that exact notion isn't voiced by the accountant played by Jones, one wouldn't have any problem easily seeing him expressing exactly that sentiment. He's the kind who complains about a dollar or so difference in the cost of a meal, that most everyone is out to rip him off, and that anything he doesn't want to do is a waste of time. Unlike him following the same routine day in and day out, all of which ends with him eventually falling asleep in his well-worn chair while sitting at home watching the Golf Channel before heading up to his own bedroom.

That routine and the lack of any real affection has finally reached the boiling point for Streep's character, so she uses her own money to pay for plane tickets and a week at the Center For Intensive Couples Counseling. That triggers the to-be-expected round of complaints and digging in of the heels from Arnold, but he reluctantly joins her once he realizes she isn't bluffing and nearly leaves without him.

That's followed by them meeting for various sessions with Carell's therapist, with the majority of them dealing with matters of intimacy, sex and other such matters the reserved husband would obviously rather not discuss with a perfect stranger. There are some easy (and to be expected) laughs from that material, but also some moments of greater depth and introspection.

Seemingly unable and/or unwilling to stray too far from the romantic comedy blueprint, the filmmakers have the couple doing various awkward exercises (which, sub-textually, somewhat mirror the bumbling and fumbling of early and far more youthful romance) that get the juices, so to speak, flowing again, only to have the to-be-expected setback followed by a happy conclusion. I would have preferred a more unorthodox flow for the storyline as there's little doubt (at least to someone who's seen thousands of movies) how things are going to play out.

Even so, the two leads make this easy to watch and they easily imbue subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) nuances to their characters that make them entertaining to behold. Carell is good, but he's purposefully underplaying the character a lot so his humor is vastly subdued. There aren't really any other characters of note, although the likes of Jean Smart, Mimi Rogers and Elisabeth Shue have tiny but recognizable parts.

Like fervent romance, most movies seem designed for the young. So, to paraphrase Mr. Mellencamp's wise words, hold onto post-adolescent films as long as you can because life goes on long after the thrill of youthful movies is gone. Entertaining but nothing great or unexpected, "Hope Springs" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed August 1, 2012 / Posted August 8, 2012


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