Hope Springs
dir David Frankel
scr Vanessa Taylor
prd Todd Black, Guymon Casady
with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Jean Smart, Elisabeth Shue, Mimi Rogers, Brett Rice, Ben Rappaport, Marin Ireland, Patch Darragh, Becky Ann Baker, Damian Young
release US 10.Aug.12, UK 14.Sep.12
12/US Columbia 1h40
Hope Springs
Relight my fire: Jones and Streep

carell smart shue
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Hope Springs Promoted as a freewheeling middle-aged comedy in the It's Complicated vein, this is actually a serious relationship drama with a few humorous touches. It features solid performances from Streep and Jones, but audiences expecting hilarity will be disappointed.

After 31 years of marriage, Kay (Streep) can no longer accept her dried-up relationship with Arnold (Jones), who sleeps in a separate room and never touches her. So she enrols them in an intensive couples counselling week in Maine with therapist Bernard (Carell). Arnold reluctantly goes along, and is horrified when Bernard zeroes in on their sex life, assigning small-step exercises with mixed results. For Kay, this is make or break time, while Arnold doesn't see the need to shake things up. And both make some startling discoveries along the way.

Director Frankel finds everyday humour in the awkwardness of discussing sex with either a long-term partner or a shrink, but he never directs the film for laughs. Streep and Jones have impeccable timing in showing their characters' humorous discomfort, but their performances also capture layers of pain, years of miscommunication and the deeply buried desire to find that old spark. Neither character is purely likeable, although our sympathies are with Streep's more openly yearning Kay rather than Lee's grumpy caveman.

Oddly, Frankel only finds brief moments of energy, leaving most scenes with a sense of quiet desperation. The more lively minor characters are barely in the film, sidelined by camera angles and abrupt editing, while Carell's character isn't much more than a blank slate, which is appropriate for a therapist but isn't very engaging. So most of the screen-time is spent watching Streep and Jones furrow their brows for very different reasons: Kay's inner turmoil and Arnold's resistance to change.

Of course, there's also the problem that we pretty much know where this is going, due to a gently amusing tone. So there isn't much real tension until a climactic sequence right at the end. Thankfully, both Streep and Jones are masters at subtext, conveying everything the lacklustre script and direction miss. They're also the main reason this film feels like something important. It's hard to remember another movie that tackles such a universal problem with such a light touch.

cert 12 themes, language, sexuality 13.Jul.12

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