Hope Springs (Columbia Pictures, PG-13)

film hope-springs_75The meat of this movie is the counseling, and because of it, there are moments that are hard to watch.



film hope-springs_500

The AARP set should stand warned before they walk into a showing of Hope Springs looking for a feel-good, recover-your-marriage romp. That is not this movie. Hope Springs is pretty serious about what makes good marriages go bad, even if it doesn’t fully explain the point it’s trying to get across.

Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) had a sturdy, loving marriage that started to go south around the 25-year mark. Now, after five years of sleeping in separate rooms, Kay is frustrated and ready for change. So ready, in fact, that she uses the money saved from her retail job to send herself and Arnold to an intense, week-long couples counseling session in a small Maine town.

Kay and Arnold are certainly not the most likeable couple ever put to film. The audience is supposed to fill in the glory days of their marriage, but before we get some specific stories during their counseling sessions, it’s difficult to imagine they were ever really happy. Arnold is gruff to the point of being a clueless bully, and every time he gets irritated with Kay, she cowers and cries; she always seems on the verge of a panic attack.

On me, this had what must’ve been the exact opposite of the desired effect. I didn’t want Arnold and Kay to get their groove back. I wanted Kay to change the locks on their house, throw Arnold’s crap into the driveway, and then run it all over with her car a few times. But I stuck with it, and I think you should, too. Hope Springs isn’t about relationship magic: It’s about relationship work.

The meat of this movie is the counseling, and because of it, there are moments that are hard to watch. Their therapist, Dr. Feld (Steve Carell), talks to them in depth about their main problem, which is lack of intimacy. It’s not easy to watch as Kay hears that Arnold fantasizes about women other than her, while she’s spent the last 30 years keeping her naughty thoughts strictly Arnold-centric.

It’s also tough to watch as Arnold rejects Kay’s advances time and again, even after he’s warmed a bit to the counseling. At one point during their stay, he treats Kay to a nice dinner at a fancy inn and books a room for the night. Once they get upstairs, things get hot and heavy. But, when Kay forces Arnold to look right at her face while they’re starting to get it on, he has a sudden reversal of fortune that would humiliate any woman.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Hope Springs is how nebulous their fall from happy to hopeless was. We hear a little about Kay being disappointed that Arnold seemed to only want sex and not her, so she pulled back. Arnold had bunked in the guest bedroom to nurse a back injury; he got better, but never returned to Kay’s bed. And since Kay didn’t appear interested in sex anymore, he stopped trying. What that doesn’t explain, though, is why Arnold is so determined to ignore or rebuff Kay once she’s clearly ready for sexy times again. Dr. Feld never gets to the bottom of that, so neither do we.

The basic message of Hope Springs is that we need to watch out before we all end up married to someone who is more of a roommate than a partner/lover/friend. I will concede that it’s possible to get that much knowledge out of a standard episode of Divorce Court, but it won’t be anywhere near as thought provoking to watch. | Adrienne Jones

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