DIR: Sean Anders • WRI: Vanessa Taylor • PRO: Todd Black, Guymon Casady, • DOP: Florian Ballhaus • ED: Matt Maddox, Steven Weisberg • DES: Stuart Wurtzel • CAST: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play Kay and Arnold, a couple who have been married for 31 years. Kay wants hers to be ‘a real marriage’ and decides to enlist the help of counsellor Dr Bernie Field (Steve Carell).Though sceptical, Arnold goes along with it.
Writer Vanessa Taylor, whose works on TV’s Game of Thrones, employs a formulaic structure. The first and third act unfolds in the couple’s hometown, the middle act taking place in Maine. The first establishes Kay’s unhappiness and her desire for change. Complications ensue when she decides to see Dr Field in Maine for his intensive one-week course. The change of setting signals the middle act. After talking, revelations, making decisions and taking action, the third act brings us home to its conclusion. The routines established early in the film are repeated, but, now that things have changed, Kay’s frying pan with bacon and eggs takes on new significance.
Three-act structure with parallel shifts in setting, a limited timescale, clearly defined character’s goals, repeated imagery: basic elements of scriptwriting 101 are evident here. Where the writing succeeds is in the frank discussion of relationships and sex that surprises its respectable middle-class characters. Where the film succeeds overall is in its performances.
Jones and Streep are excellent. Jones brings a grumpy earthiness to Arnold, an accountant by profession and constantly concerned with prices. He displays skill in saying nothing, refusing to talk. He makes silence work with gestures, a forced smile, a rapping of his knuckles on the table. Streep brings warmth and vulnerability to Kay. The pair works well together, playing characters that have lived together for 30 years but have grown apart.
Carell’s understated performance is noteworthy. He plays a facilitator, asking questions and provoking reactions from Jones and Streep. His restrained performance complements the leads’ theatrics.
Director David Frankel previously worked with Streep on The Devil Wears Prada. This comedy-drama is much less acerbic, and one wonders how Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), originally slated to direct, might have handled it.
Frankel’s film features pop songs soaring in emotional scenes, allowing them to swell up particularly when the characters are alone. The effect is overly sentimental, giving the film a saccharine tone.Their absence would benefit the players’ performances and its deft dialogue, giving certain scenes a bleakness that might underline Kay’s unhappiness and uncertainty and Arnold’s reluctance.
But this is Hope Springs, co-produced by MGM, so Hollywood convention prevails.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Hope Springs is released on 14th September 2012