Hope Springs is Tommy Lee Jones' film. Not one ounce of shtick or mugging. He projects raw sincerity and genuine moments that cascade their pain from the screen onto the audience. Jones' portrays Arnold Soames who is tormented by an inability to show intimacy to his wife of 33 years, Meryl Streep. He comes off as a gruff, preoccupied husband filled with fear of financial insecurity masking real fears of impotency. Streep is not her finest as she occasionally mugs and poses. Since it is Meryl Streep you think, "Oh ,no, this can't be true!" but it is. She is not up to her game. Maybe she is just miscast or perhaps Jones' gut wrenching sincerity proved too raw for her and she was, at times, watching him instead of working off of him. Whatever -- this is a miss for Miss Meryl who plays Kay Soames.
The plot is about a middle-aged couple on the skids after 33 years of married life. Their relationship has come unglued due to a lack of intimacy. Their last sexual encounter was four years ago and they sleep in separate beds. Kay is tormented by her husband's coldness and withholding. Fortuitously she comes upon a pamphlet advertising a retreat, Hope Springs, in Maine that offers intense marriage counseling from a Dr. Bernie Field played with a perfect sensitivity by Steve Carrell whose ability to listen makes his performance riveting. Kay spends $4,000 of her savings to attend this intense marriage counseling unsure that her husband will be joining her. Abe is moved by her desire to try to save their marriage, but does not want to attend and is unable to show his true feelings. Kay's taxi to the airport is about to pull away to Hope Springs when Abe rushes out the door and into the taxi. Here writer Vanessa Taylor shines as she wisely does not have Kay beg Abe to come, but allows him to make his own decision. Brilliant writing. Kay's gentleness helps to assuage Abe's fears about the retreat. About everything.
David Fankel's direction is skillful and subtle and allows the right amount of time for the characters to make their own decisions.
Major quibble is the music which is used to cable the action and dialogue and is a big mistake. Too loud, too visible, too much an intrusive character. Everything the writer Taylor has accomplished by subtleness and not directing characters to tell each other what to do, the music counteracts and goes against. Please. It comes close to ruining sensitive moments.
The Soames future is in your hands. Go to Hope Springs and see what happens to this couple who is in love, but who does not know it or know how to show it. I think it is interesting to note that originally Jeff Bridges was cast in Jones' part, then James Gandolfini and Phillip Seymour Hoffman were attached and director Mike Nichols was replaced by David Frankel. Alas Tommy Lee Jones was cast and has trumped the other choices. He makes the viewer long to be married to him and to have the problems Kay has faced with him and well... Jones is 'the man.'
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