With the whispering buzz almost at a fever pitch now as the suburban housewife set goes berserk over the erotic novel "Fifty Shades of Grey," the new Meryl Streep film about an Omaha woman who tries to get the spice back into her sex life couldn't be timelier.
"Hope Springs," which also stars Tommy Lee Jones and funnyman Steve Carrell (playing it serious this time), tackles the topic of the decline of intimacy in a three-decade old marriage. The film itself has its ups and downs, but pairing Streep and Jones together is, as you can well imagine, absolutely phenomenal to watch.
With their kids grown and the pair living in the same house they've been in for most of their marriage, couple Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) Soames have fallen into a rut. She works at a hum-drum, part-time job as a sales clerk at a women's clothing store chain, while he's a partner in an accounting firm. Each morning, Kay makes her husband the same breakfast, one egg and one slice of bacon; he reads the newspaper while he shovels down his food, gets up and gives her a peck on the cheek before getting in his Buick and heading off to work. In the evening, she cooks him a meat and potatoes dinner, he falls asleep in his La-Z-Boy chair while watching The Golf Channel, and they retire for the evening -- to separate bedrooms. The doors close and the cycle repeats. But Kay is growing restless.
Desperate to ignite a spark, she finds a book (no, it's not "Shades of Grey") by Dr. Bernard Feld, a marriage counselor, who could be the answer she needs. She digs deeper and find his online video where he promises that he can put the spice back into any couple's life if they attend his intensive week-long therapy session in Great Hope Springs, Maine.
Kay commits the two for the session and the trip to Maine using money from her own savings account. As would be expected, Arnold believes the marriage is fine and wants nothing to do with therapy or Dr. Feld, until a pep talk from a co-worker convinces him otherwise.
Director David ("The Devil Wears Prada") Frankel and his top-notch actors have a tall task in front of them with the script, wonderful as it is, by Vanessa Taylor, her first feature film (she's a television writer whose credits include episodes of "Game of Thrones," "Alias," "Everwood" and "Tell Me You Love Me"). Taylor's script seems more like a stage play than a movie. Mostly dominated by two and three characters, there are frequent dialogue heavy scenes, especially those that take place in the therapist's office. But Kay and Arnold are written with so much depth of emotion that as the story unfolds you can't help but become part of their world. Meanwhile, Streep and Jones embody the characters, her loneliness heightened by his lack of interest, that they end up bringing to life another character in this ensemble film -- their broken marriage, including some pretty sturdy firewalls that they've built through the years.
Carrell has a difficult job as the soft-spoken therapist, pushing and prodding to work every angle to get his couple back together into the bedroom, both emotionally and literally. And as an actor, he proves himself a worthy opponent to the two veteran powerhouses.
The film has its flaws: its constant soundtrack, blaring coffeehouse-style tunes during crucial moments, is overbearing; scenes that probably should have had more screen time feel short shrifted, including a comic interlude with Kay in a neighborhood bar and Elisabeth Shue as the genial bartender. A constant stream of soft light is planted on the right side of Carrell's face during each of his scenes, perhaps for calming effect, but it's more of a distraction.
Despite its PG-13 rating, the film is definitely suited for a middle-aged and older demographic. It will be a stretch for twenty or thirtysomethings to find relatibility unless they see their parents represented in Kay and Arnold or have a vision of themselves in the future.
But for those that will relate, "Hope Springs" is intelligent, well-acted and gets accolades for its originality. Then, of course, there's Streep, who breathes more than enough life into a character who could have been downright dowdy if someone else had inhabited Kay's Coldwater Creek clothes. Jones steps up to the plate as her perfect on-screen partner (this is a role that Jack Nicholson would have been cast in a few years ago).
"Hope Springs" eternal with romance at its heart and a resounding message that it's never too late to fall in love again.