The Doctor Is In
This is for married folks who are suffering from the mundane having crept into their lives, sapping away energy and everything that had made it tick, and resigned to settling for what it is rather than what it can be. Directed by David Frankel, probably better known for his The Devil Wears Prada film, Hope Springs has a touch of sensitivity and emotions stemming very much from a female point of view, after all it's written by one in Vanessa Taylor, and it's full of poignant moments that makes it quite the romantic drama, even if it's dealing with relationship, and matrimonial issues and challenges.
Given that it's an American production, things like seeing a therapist, and enrolling in counselling sessions seem to be almost second nature, and rather focused on physical and emotional intimacy for the most parts. Which is excellent to bring on the laughs especially when the couple have to open up their most intimate secrets and fantasies, goaded to play them out where possible as exercises. There's heavy emotional investment in having the couple square off, and deal with the problems and perception faced by the other, with most of the issues having been swept under the carpet, but not any more when they are now brought out onto the negotiating table in very painful, but honest terms.
I suppose those who have been through 30 over years of marriage may attest to some of the issues brought up, and in relationships that aren't rock solid to begin with, or have wavered over the years jointed only by the sense of obligation and having romance largely absent, it's trouble with a capital T. For Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), married life has become a routine, and dictated by television programs ending in different rooms to retire for the night. Anniversaries boil down to getting the latest cable programs, until Kay decides that enough is enough, and is inspired to seek help, very much against Arnold's wishes, from a guru in Maine that costs a few thousand dollars for an intensive one week course that can get their marriage back on track again.
The delight here is of course Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Streep is excellent as the matronly middle aged woman who decided to put her foot down and take charge of her life, and many a times Streep has her very subtle skills making Kay very three dimensional, and believable as the woman who is really sounding out for help, and wearing her depressing emotions on her sleeves. The slightest of smiles told a whole of more than dialogue ever could. And Tommy Lee Jones shone as the grumpy, skeptical old man who just hated to be where his wife dragged him to, trying his best to compromise but almost always losing it given that most men probably would, when questions come point blank at the ego.
Perhaps the only blemish would be Steve Carell, unfortunately. No offense though as he's one of my favourite comedians, and personally I'd prefer his more dramatic roles, but as the therapist Dr. Feld, he cannot do any more justice to a really bland character that's written to be as such, as if to out-bland the blandness in the marriage of the couples in his life's calling, to heal and mend deep wounds and scars that exist, making them realize what matters more in each other, and to help them find a way back to the good old romantic moments, even up to what made them fall in love all over again. Delivering questions in a monotone voice, and always ending his questions with a forced smile, it's pretty amazing Dr Felds can become quite the talk of the town and sustaining all industries as well.
Still, the nuances shown by Streep and Lee Jones in their roles are what made Hope Springs well worth to sit right through, without any need to dwell on the melodramatic and the woes of a long married couple. It's funny without being rude nor vulgar, and shows that the veterans together can rescue a very straightforward narrative, making it interesting just by the sheer force of their acting capabilities alone. A definite recommendation!