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HOPE SPRINGS

SYNOPSIS:
After two kids and over thirty years together, Kay (Meryl Streep) is determined to rescue her marriage to Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) from the decay of boredom and lack of intimacy - which doesn't seem to bother Arnold. She insists they attend an intense, week-long and expensive counselling program under Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell) to work on their relationship.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Hope Springs is a marriage guidance counselling session masquerading as a movie - a session for mature marrieds who find their relationship has gone dry. Perhaps they let it. After 31 years of wedded bliss and unbliss, Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) seems oblivious to his wife's unhappiness. All Kay (Meryl Streep) wants is more two-way communication, a kiss, a cuddle and maybe the occasional romp. Arnold hardly talks to her.

This, as we are often told by a prying media and by counsellors writing columns of advice, is a commonly experienced marriage malaise. Kay is determined to change her marriage back into something warm and loving; she books a $4000 concentrated counselling program for the two of them in Maine, with the popular specialist, Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell).

Dr. Feld digs deep and personal; he asks questions about sex and sexuality that confront Arnold. As I say, the movie may be a less confronting way to undergo such therapy for some, especially for men like Arnold, who are more sensitive to sexual probing than they are to their wives' emotional state. (The movie, even at Sydney prices, is cheaper, too.)

Meryl Streep is careful not to overplay the humour of this drama as the wife intent on refreshing her marriage. She gives us her emotional persona with a well balanced and subtle but steely determination. Tommy Lee Jones also excels as Mr. Craggy Man with his softer side well buried under a pile of golfing magazines and golf tv shows, which are almost as boring to her as his accounting job.

The premise is built on such solid and serious drama - and is so sharply observed - that it can take quite a heavy battering of humour, which it does, thanks to Vanessa Taylor's fine screenplay and David Frankel's adroit direction.

When at the beginning Frankel (of The Devil Wears Prada fame) is establishing the empty rituals of their daily lives, I worried that Tom would be a terrible caricature of the uncommunicative male, but this is avoided. In fact he confronts this very issue with a frank admission that men will accept - and maybe fear.

Steve Carrell is a sly bit of casting, his comedic persona totally hidden but we know it's there, softening the sometimes gruelling grilling he delivers. Laughs are earned (and generously given by the audience) as the couple that face their most challenging time in life struggle to cope. They both have to endure pain and setbacks in the process and at one stage we sense they are doomed to repeat the habitual dullness of their lives, sleeping apart, thinking apart, living apart - under the one roof, to make it worse.

Beautifully shot at Maine's oceanside locations and superbly lit when we're inside, Hope Springs delivers on its promise to entertain as it explores one of our most difficult institutions from the vantage point that we all hope to reach - marriage longevity - and to do so without losing what it offers: exceptional intimacy and friendship.

Cynics will resist, others will go home, buy flowers and make love in front of the fire with strawberries and champagne .... At least one more time.

Review by Louise Keller:
Like their 30 year old marriage, the stairs that lead up to Kay and Arnold's separate bedrooms squeak. Romance and sex are nothing but a distant memory and daily life has become a robotic routine with no spark and nothing new to anticipate. Every bit as scrumptious as anticipated, Hope Springs is an intimate peek into the life of a middle-aged couple who have fallen into a rut of mediocrity and complacency. Screenwriter Vanessa Taylor puts her finger on the vital little things in a relationship that snowball into issues, compound into unspoken resentments and escalate into despair. The Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel orchestrates the situations perfectly, while two solid gold performers in Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones deliver pure gold.

Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) are like co-workers who co-exist without really seeing each other. The routine never changes. Kay is there to serve Arnie's single rasher of bacon with a sunny side up every morning; he reads the paper, picks up his briefcase and gives her a cursory goodbye peck on the cheek. At night, reclining in his television chair, he watches golf, nods off before climbing the squeaky stairs to his bedroom. Their grown up children might have given them candlestick holders for their 31st anniversary, but Kay and Arnie's present to each other is always a functional household item: this year it is a new cable TV subscription.

Desperate to recapture intimacy in her marriage, Kay researches and finds Dr Feld (Steve Carell), who specialises in Intensive Couple Counselling in the aptly named Hope Springs in Maine. Arnold is horrified and reluctant at the prospect of a week of expensive therapy 1,500 miles away, even though Kay has paid for everything with her savings. Then the fun begins.

Carell plays it totally straight as the counsellor who cultivates intimacy, asking his uncomfortable, embarrassed patients to talk about themselves as well as (shock, horror), intimate details of their sex life, including what they like, what they have never got and what they fantasise. The progress of the Sexercises that Dr Feld gives the couple as homework each night is nicely paced and Kay's fumbling in the dark of the movie theatre in a bid to fulfill one of Arnie's sexual desires is so awkward that I couldn't help but cringe for them. (The fact that the film playing on screen is the hilarious French farce The Dinner Game, does nothing to create a conducive, seductive mood.)

The performances are a joy to watch with Streep nailing Kay's loneliness, isolation and longing to rediscover the lost connection with her husband who never touches her anymore. Jones's Arnie is a gruff man, set in his ways like a permanent crease is ironed into a serviette. He is in denial and has forgotten what it is to be intimate and to share thoughts. As honesty creeps into the therapy sessions, a flood gate opens, with accusations, admissions and revelations vying for space on the table for discussion. A tumultuous emotional journey by both characters, although it is Jones whose transformation is more dramatic.

There are umpteen things to enjoy in this highly observant, truthfully depicted romantic comedy in which the laughs are countered by the pathos in which the relationship is grounded. The perfect date movie - if you've been married for a while.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

HOPE SPRINGS (M)
(US, 2012)

CAST: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Elizabeth Shue, Jean Smart, Brett Rice, Ben Rappaport, Marin Ireland, Patch Darragh, Elisabeth Shue, Charles Techman, Daniel Flaherty, Damian Young, Mimi Rogers, Ann Harada, Jack Haley

PRODUCER: Todd Black, Guymon Casaday

DIRECTOR: David Frankel

SCRIPT: Vanessa Taylor

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Florian Ballhaus

EDITOR: Matt Maddox, Steven Weisberg

MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stuart Wurtzel

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 23, 2012







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