No film starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a married couple should come within range of being boring. But in director David Frankel's “Hope Springs,” these two masters spend most of this rote marriage counseling melodrama grasping for the dramatic hook that will make Kay and Arnold Soames interesting, rather than just a midlife couple coasting blandly on the romantic skids.
With the kids grown and moved on, Arnold and Kay are spending the last years before retirement living separately in their practical, split-level Omaha, Neb., home. Arnold falls asleep every night in a recliner, watching the Golf Channel, before retiring to a second bedroom while Kay stares at the ceiling in the master suite. He's grouchy, distant and flinches at affection. She's unassertive and lets him get away with it all, but Kay experiences a mild, almost imperceptible breaking point and buys a marriage counseling getaway package in Hope Springs, a seaside community in Maine where the economy is seemingly built around the practice of Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell).
If Dr. Feld were dispensing genius counseling worthy of a 2,000-mile flight, this might all make sense. But Carell's character is not much of a guru despite the gushing praise given by the clients and admiring townspeople milling around Kay and Arnold at every restaurant and store. Feld simply tells them to touch each other, try some sexual adventure or any sex at all. Arnold complains constantly about being overcharged by a charlatan, and while the husband's muttering and compulsive cheapness border on inexcusable, his point is not far off the mark.
In recent years, Frankel distinguished himself by creating well-executed, warmly directed entertainment, especially 2006's “The Devil Wears Prada,” and it only makes sense that Streep would return to work with him after scoring with her performance as Miranda Priestly in that film. It is almost a law of nature that Streep will be great even in the weakest films, and yet “Hope Springs” gives her almost nothing to do except fidget and simper while Jones grouses and occasionally works himself up into a mild anger. As for Carell, this is light lifting from start to finish.
With all this talent amassed, Frankel and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor offer little of interest for these exceptional players to express, instead relying on unsubtle emotional shorthand delivered through the soundtrack. Is Kay feeling dejected and desperate? Play Annie Lennox's “Why.” Does Arnold want them to stay together? Cue Al Green's “Let's Stay Together,” of course. If there is a way forward for Kay and Arnold Soames, a possibility of short-circuiting their ennui and recharging their romance, it only exists because “Hope Springs” runs out of ways for them to passive-aggressively avoid a happy ending.
— George Lang
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell. (Mature thematic content involving sexuality)