Romance in Hollywood films is so skewed towards the young that it comes as something of a shock to encounter in Hope Springs a film tackling the trials of a mature married couple.
Meryl Streep’s placid, mousy Kay and Tommy Lee Jones’s grouchy, penny-pinching Arnold have been together for 30 years, but their marriage, while still cosily companionable, is now stale and sexless. Determined to revive the relationship, Kay somehow summons the pluck to drag the unwilling Arnold to the twee New England coastal town of Great Hope Springs for a week of intensive couple’s counselling.
And under the gentle guidance of celebrity therapist Dr Bernard Feld (played straight by Steve Carell), the pair hesitantly, stumblingly, and sometimes painfully, strive to rekindle the spark in their marriage.
Like Kay and Arnold’s relationship, Hope Springs takes a while to ignite – indeed, there are times when the dullness of the couple’s marriage seems to be seeping into the film. But Streep and Jones’s carefully nuanced performances gradually draw you in.
It takes a while, admittedly, to adjust to the notion of these powerful screen presences in the roles of such a stunted couple, but they never caricature or condescend to their characters (imagine the same duo in the hands of Mike Leigh – and shudder). If some scenes make us squirm, such as Kay’s failed attempt to perform oral sex on Arnold in a cinema, then we’re only sharing the characters’ own embarrassment.
Streep and Jones’s acting is probably better than the film’s direction (by The Devil Wears Prada’s David Frankel) and script (by television producer and writer Vanessa Taylor) deserve, but, thanks to them, Hope Springs is tender, sad, funny and honest.
On general release from Friday 14th September.