Marriage is hard. I can tell you this from experience. It is a delicate game of give and take that can be screwed up far too easily. Kay (Meryl Streep) knows this all too well. She has been married for over three decades, but over the years anything resembling passion has been replaced by routine and more importantly… distance. Her husband, Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), doesn’t see the problem. He gets his breakfast every morning, is home for dinner and falls asleep in front of the television. Kay and Arnold have become roommates instead of a married couple and Kay wants some of their old life back. She arranges an intense therapy session and tells Arnold she is going, whether he wants to come or not. Along the course of the therapy sessions, led by Dr. Feld (a surprisingly restrained Steve Carell), secrets are revealed and problems are laid bare.
What Hope Springs wants to tell us is that when we want a marriage to work there has to be passion and communication. Without those two elements there is no use in staying married. Even more important is the message that forcing these two elements is often even worse. Both Kay and Arnold try to force their love for each other in extreme ways and both times they fail. They (and we) come to the conclusion that love is organic and inexplicable and that it can’t be coerced by way of some strawberries or candles. It probably helps a little, but if the foundation isn’t there, forget about it.
Hope Springs is surprisingly candid about all these revelations and this is mostly due to the brilliant performances of the central cast. I connected a lot with Jones, mostly because I recognize some of myself in him (and vowed to change some of those traits after seeing the film). Streep channels her age perfectly and shows us a vulnerable side that is heartbreaking. Carell rounds out the trio with a performance we have not seen often from him. He never loses his cool and moderates the conversation between Kay and Arnold instead of dictating it with his usual shenanigans.
I had already heard through the grapevine that Hope Springs was a lot better than the poster or trailer made it out to be. This is true, but there are certainly problems with Hope Springs. Director David Frankel’s (The Devil Wears Prada) incessant use of songs is so overtly manipulative that it becomes almost expected that we get Annie Lennox’s Why? blaring from the speakers when our heroes need to work out something crucial in their relationship. Luckily the performances overcome Frankel’s constant search for melodrama by not giving in to his wishes. Streep and Jones play their parts so down to earth that no amount of musical melodrama could tear them down. Maybe that’s why Hope Springs works so well.