They’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

8 Aug

This week, my parents celebrated their 40th anniversary.

Theirs is an unusual story (for non-celebrities, anyway), in that they met and were married within the space of just eight months. Today, a relationship like that may have resulted in a marriage that only lasted 72 days. So yeah, 40 years of marriage is an impressive achievement.

If you were to ask my parents, I suspect Ward and June (no, those aren’t their actual names) would tell you they are just as in love today as they were all those years ago.

Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), the couple at the center of the new film Hope Springs, would probably not say the same thing about their own relationship.

After 31 years of marriage, they’re struggling. No, they’re not fighting, and they might tell you they still love each other, but after years of disappointment and fear, and many nights where things have settled into a safe and nonthreatening routine, the spark they once had has been almost completely extinguished.

These two barely speak to each other anymore. The fact that they sleep in separate bedrooms is not just a metaphor, it’s a literal representation of how not together they are. In fact, Kay says she might feel less alone if she were actually separated and unmarried.

To save her marriage, Kay signs the two of them up for a week-long intensive counseling session with Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell, in an intentionally less comedic role for a change), and drags Arnold up to Maine, kicking and screaming.

Many filmgoers have certainly experienced a similar scenario in their own lives. And Hope Springs treats the situation with more care than humor (yes, those ads you’re seeing on TV are a bit misleading). But maybe a little too much care.

You want to root for this couple — if not because of the stars playing the characters than because Kay and Arnold are good, likeable people in a serious rut — and given that the film’s come out in the summer, you expect that there’ll be a happy ending. But director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) and writer Vanessa Taylor put you through enough heartbreaking false starts and disappointments that after a while, you lose hope too.

That may be realistic, but it doesn’t make for a very enjoyable movie.

I don’t think it’s the actors’ fault that the film doesn’t work as well as it could have, but it’s clear that this is neither of their best work.

Streep, after all, is the kind of actress who completely disappears into her characters — no matter how real or “regular” they are. But she plays Kay so sympathetically that I actually felt really sorry for her (the character and the actress). And not in a good way. It’s almost as if Kay is too sad and depressed; no wonder Arnold’s lost interest.

(I like to call movies like Hope Springs “lower Streep.” Others in this category are It’s Complicated and Mamma Mia!)

And Jones, well, I can’t really imagine him liking the script all that much. Maybe the chance to play a more vulnerable character appealed to him, but I’m guessing it was more the chance to work with Streep that convinced him to sign on here.

Streep and Jones do have believable chemistry, though. Their characters are not exactly on the same page now, but you can believe that at one time, this was a couple that got along really well together.

I hate to blame it on age, but to cut to the chase, I know I’m not really the target audience for Hope Springs (when I saw the movie, the theater was full of people who had won tickets through AARP). So maybe older folks who can empathize with the characters more than I can will enjoy it more.

With that in mind, I know my parents will like it — even though they’re still happily married. I’m sure they’d even have some good advice for Kay and Arnold about keeping their relationship on track.

Me? I’d tell those two (or any couple looking to rekindle a spark) to find a better movie to watch the next time they’re looking for a fun night out.

I’m giving Hope Springs a B–.

Is Hope Springs on your must-see list? Or will you be telling your parents to see it instead? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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2 Responses to “They’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 2012 Was a Masterful Year for the Movies « Martin's Musings - December 21, 2012

    […] Hope Springs Meryl Streep plays a character who is so sad and depressed that you feel really sorry for her — […]

  2. Should You Take Your Mama Out to See These Movies? « Martin's Musings - December 23, 2012

    […] Insulting, stupid, and featuring a predictably cheesy score by Marc Shaiman that hits all kinds of treacly notes when it wants to wring a little emotion from the audience, Parental Guidance is a complete waste of time and talent. I haven’t felt this embarrassed for an actor (in this case, Crystal) since Meryl Streep in Hope Springs. […]

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