Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: "Hope Springs"

Before this year, Meryl Streep, Hollywood's most celebrated actress, had not won an Academy Award in my lifetime. She won an Oscar this year for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Irony Lady, which was one of the worst disappointments of 2011. Meryl Streep is a fantastic actress and single handedly makes any film better. Think the almost equally terrible Julie & Julia (2009) or the painful Mamma Mia! (2008). Hope Springs is that kind of film. At least Tommy Lee Jones is an equally talented actor who delivers a strong performance. But I am still left to wonder: when is the last time Meryl Streep offered a brilliant performance in an equally brilliant film? Doubt (2008) was a good film, but Streep was overshadowed by Viola Davis and Amy Adams. Personally, I have to reach back an entire decade to 2002. Streep was fantastic in Adaptation and was equally great in The Hours (which won Nicole Kidman an Academy Award). It is becoming a chore to consistently forgive Meryl Streep for poor career choices (like 2009's It's Complicated). I should have known that Hope Springs was hopeless from the outset because it is directed by David Frankel. His first film, 1995's Miami Rhapsody, was a Woody Allen-wannabe starring Mia Farrow. He also directed The Devil Wears Prada, which features one of the worst film endings in recent memory. There are so many things that do not work in Hope Springs. It feels far too long (which is unfortunate at 100 minutes) and Steve Carell is completely underused. Worst of all, the characters are not very likable. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play a married couple with so many problems that it is hard to imagine why they have lasted so long. Is couples therapy really a realistic choice? I must also discuss the age of the actors involved. Streep is 63 and Jones is 65. Their characters met in college and have been married for 31 years. Maybe Meryl is getting a little too old to be playing 50. Hope Springs is able to bring what feels like weeks of intensive therapy into a film that takes place during a single week. Steve Carell, in very limited scenes as a therapist, is given very little to do, and the progression of the film suffers. Hope Springs is a jumbled mess of a story, and not even strong performances from Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones make it more than bearable.

Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) have been married for 31 years. They live a quiet life in Omaha, Nebraska, yet neither seem very happy. They sleep in separate bedrooms and Kay serves Arnold breakfast the same way each morning. He barely speaks to her and she rarely seeks his attention. One day Kay is prompted to look for self-help books at the local bookstore. She buys a book written by Dr. Bernie Feld (Carell) and after searching his website, she registers for a week of intensive marriage counseling in Maine. Kay spends $4000 on the sessions without asking Arnold. He does not believe that marriage counseling in necessary and begrudgingly flies across the country with her. Early on in their sessions with Dr. Feld it is revealed that Kay and Arnold have severe intimacy issues. It is made even more problematic by the fact that Arnold uses the pullout couch at the hotel. Dr. Feld encourages Kay and Arnold to spend time touching each other and becoming more intimate as a couple. As the therapy goes on, Kay learns that she is as much to blame as her husband for the problems in their marriage.

Hope Springs is the first feature film screenplay by Vanessa Taylor, who may be well known for her work on television. Her writing credits include Game of Thornes, Everwood and Alias. It is a shame that Hope Springs fails so much because of holes in the screenplay. The ending is a complete nightmare, but the setup might be more problematic. The stage is set for Kay and Arnold to go to couples counseling, but it does a better job making the viewer wonder why they have remained together. Kay is depicted as a meek housewife while Arnold is a chauvinistic asshole. Also, nany of the scenes were far too long. The film opened on Wednesday. I saw it on Thursday afternoon. Almost the entire audience was older. My mother saw the film on Wednesday and said the same thing. Hope Springs is definitely aimed at a much older audience. I am definitely unable to relate to a couple who has been married for 31 years. But I do know terrible pacing. The soundtrack, which blares far too loudly and at awkward times, is laughable. It is hard to believe that Meryl Streep would even agree to appear in this film. Hope Springs, while it features good performances from Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, fails to properly develop its characters and leaves far too much for the audience to accept at face value.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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