The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
And now, welcome to the Glee American Idol Variety Hour: 60 minutes (or approximately 43 without the commercials) of broadcast programming whose only purpose is to make us “ooh” and “ahh” while only establishing a minimal emotional connection. Of course, if this was American Idol, that connection would build over the course of the season as we reached the live shows while barreling towards the epic finale of the season. But because this is the broken-down, exhausted jalopy that is Glee, we’re puttering along in that audition phase of the Fox singing competition. Which, if you’re an Idol viewer like myself, tends to get old after the first week. Contrived drama between auditioners? Check. Mean judge? Check. Group week mania before finally pulling it all together at the last minute? Check. Predictable outcome because of all the ridiculously easy-to-read hints dropped throughout the episode? Check. And finally, the closer featuring a Kelly Clarkson ballad? Ch-ch-check. Now if only Ryan Seacrest could have stopped by to keep the episode on track.
Exhibit A: Auditions Circuit
The big plot this week was, of course (because Fox and Lea Michele would not let us forget however hard we tried), Kurt and Rachel’s big auditions for NYADA, and as we saw very blatantly in the previews for the episode, things weren’t going to go right for Mini Babs. Leading up to the big A, we see Kurt preparing for his moment with a rehearsal of “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. And between the fire hazard — er, candelabra set design — and Artie wheeling around the stage fanning the mist, we knew ol’ Porcelain wasn’t going to stick with this song. Besides, he does know that for most auditions, he’s lucky to get a dinky piano accompaniment, right? Arts schools don’t let you stage an off-Broadway production to get your point across.
Kurt has the brilliant, totally sound idea to switch his audition number to “Not the Boy Next Door,” as famously performed by Hugh Jackman in amazing gold lamé pants in The Boy From Oz. Rachel’s brain suddenly suffers a cataclysmic case of the Midwest conservatism they’ve been fighting for three seasons and she decides to “save” Kurt by breaking their pact to not speak to each other until after the auditions so she can convince him to stick with the safe choice, the Phantom song. A: The audition judge is from New York, and therefore open to expressions of sexuality and personality like the number from Oz. B: Kurt sings “Music of the Night” like a lost little puppy — albeit a super adorable lost little puppy.
When it comes time to audition — shocker — Kurt has gold pants on under his Phantom cape and his “swans” at the ready for an impromptu performance of “Not the Boy Next Door.” Unsurprisingly, it’s amazing and Whoopi the NYADA judge loves it. Of course, because this episode is (indirectly) brought to you by American Idol, Whoopi takes a second to pull the old audition fake-out on Kurt. Giant pause, heavy breathing, then boom: Immense praise.
Cut to Rachel’s audition, which, as we saw approximately 3,500 times on Fox this week (don’t quote me on that — math’s not my forte), is not going to go well. Rachel takes her own advice and sticks with the Barbra Streisand song we’ve heard her sing 3,500 times (although that may be because we went through a phase after we paid 99 cents for it on iTunes), but what’s this? She forgets the words… twice. And Whoopie, in all her turbaned glory, cuts off our young heroine and informs her that this is the end of her NYADA dreams. Of course, it’s completely absurd that Rachel would forget anything. You’ve seen the way she wakes up: Like a musical theater mummy with a smile that could burn through all the sadness in the world. (It’s a little creepy.) But like an Idol audition, the plot set the overconfident egomaniac up to fail and it had to deliver.
Next: Glee finds its Simon Cowell.
Exhibit B: The Mean Judge
Whoopi Goldberg’s NYADA dean Carme Tibideaux is the Simon Cowell of the art school audition circuit. Kurt and Rachel trade stories of her vicious tirades just before they take the stage for judgment. Obviously, the meaner streak comes out when Rachel flubs her whole audition and Whoopi tells her that if she forgets the lyrics on Broadway, the understudy takes her job, as she coolly walks out and turns the lights out on the devastated could-be starlet.
But Whoopi really brings it home when she offers up high praise to Kurt. Even Simon knows, being so brutally honest only works if you occasionally dole out servings of some very serious praise. And telling Kurt that Hugh Jackman would have been impressed with his performance may have been an overstatement, but it certainly fits the bill.
Exhibit C: Group Week
Next stop: Idol’s infamous group week, wherein a gaggle of singers fight and cry and fear failure until they get it together in the 11th hour. The Glee version of this comes when all the New Directions guys gather to muse over their concerns about Puck’s potential to flunk out of high school weeks before graduation, which is a plotline that really should have come up months ago. (If anyone has the potential to flunk out, it’s Puck.) Apparently, they all work out together too (except for Joe of the ridiculous dreads, who stands there like he’s afraid the free weights might bite him).
After Puck’s plan to pass Geography by seducing his teacher fails (and here you thought he’d worked out all his Mary Kay Letourneau wiggles) and he sings an unwieldy version of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” that is so powerful it makes 1980s groupies pop out of lockers, the Glee gang gathers to prep him just enough to pass his final exam. And by prep, I mean they all sing a rock version of “The Rain in Spain” and Puck consequently only knows the test answers that come from the lyrics of the My Fair Lady tune. Add in the “sob story” about his deadbeat dad showing up to ask him for money, inspiring him to graduate and become a better man, and you’ve got the perfect group week package.
Exhibit D: PSA/Sob Story
This week on the lesson-learning portion of Glee, we learn about the perils of domestic abuse. (I’m fairly certain they’re just pulling social issues out of a hat at this point.) Bieste comes to school with a shiner, and assuming no one could get the jump on Bieste, the glee club girls who aren’t stuck in a wheelchair or crying over a flubbed audition make jokes in the hallway about her getting clocked by her husband. To teach them a lesson for their heartlessness — which is actually an accurate depiction of how even the sweetest high school girls sometimes act among friends in the hallway — Sue, the co-advisor of the glee club, and her mini-me NeNe Leakes rope Bieste into a lesson for the girls. She asks them to turn a song into an empowerment anthem for women, and they screw it up on the first round. But we’ll get to that part in just a minute.
By the time the girls get it right with the song choice — Florence + the Machine’s “Shake It Out” — we find that Bieste was hit by her husband Cooter, and that while she told Sue she moved out to live with her sister, she’s really staying with the abuser and trying to work things out. And much like last week’s one-off treatment of the gender identification issue facing many teens, this quickie after-school special of the week treatment of such a huge issue like domestic abuse undermines the gravity of the topic. Out of nowhere Bieste has an abusive husband, Sue puts a glee-club bandaid on it, and she really thought that was the end of it? Once again, this show bites off a bigger topic than it can even fit between its tiny little molars. And once again, the series fails to lend the appropriate respect to the sensitive topic. Besides, they’ve got a truly disturbing issue ready and ripe for the picking: Can we tackle Will’s infantilism soon, please?
Next: And now for a very inappropriate Broadway number.
Exhibit E: Inappropriate Broadway Number
It’s a good thing Randy Jackson was too busy picking out a polka dot bowtie for tonight’s Idol to be around to see the Chicago number that the girls picked out to combat domestic abuse. (In case you don’t watch Idol auditions every year like I do, you should know that if there’s one thing Randy hates about auditions, it’s all the folks who come in and try to perform Broadway numbers for him and his fellow judges. No! Not the vibrato!)
This time, the inappropriateness wasn’t so much about genre as it was about tact, but we’ll let the slant connection slide. While Bieste is wrestling with her struggle with domestic violence, these ladies waltz up on stage in skimpy lingerie and sing “a song about crazy women in their panties killing men for chewing gum.” (For once, NeNe makes a damn good point.) Randy would probably have some misplaced metaphor about a fish to insert here right about now.
Exhibit F: Close with a Kelly Clarkson Ballad
After all is said and done — Puck miraculously passes his exam using only facts obtained from My Fair Lady, Kurt rocks his audition, the glee girls pat themselves on the back for singing an uplifting song, and Rachel blows her audition — we can’t escape the episode without a big emotional ballad to watch all the storylines get wrapped up with a bow. And what better way to pay homage to Idol than by closing with a Kelly Clarkson ballad, sung by Rachel and appropriately titled “Cry.” With this we get the Idol auditions one-two punch: rousing ballad courtesy of the show’s own success story (nepotism!) and an emotional sob story to send us on our merry way (but really beg us to come back and make sure that heartbreaking young person achieve their dream, by golly!).
And in closing, because there are still parts of this show that we love, some of the funny little moments that were the spoon full of sugar to help us swallow “Choke”:
--One of Rachel’s biggest fears is “Menstrual Bloat.”
--Brittany’s prom theme idea is “Aliens” and involves a probing booth.
--An A+ for the intro that hearkened back to Season 1’s wildly (terrifyingly) driven Rachel Berry.
--Finn knows something’s wrong with Puck because he hasn’t been logging onto any Call of Duty tourneys.
--Rachel can’t even lie to Kurt when he asks if he can sing “Music of the Night” as well as Michael Crawford.
--Bieste’s sister is named Denise Bieste, because of course she is.
--Puck gives himself the name “Puckgellan” to amp himself up for his geography test.
Did you see it all coming? Are you getting tired of the way the show throws emotional topics around in the plot? Do you think I’m nuts for finding all these connection to Idol? Have I just been watching too much Fox?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
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Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
S5E17: Well, they’ve done it. Here we have an episode of 30 Rock that actually makes me want to groan. Let me couple that with the fact that I’ve removed the Live Show disaster from my memory, so I’m not counting it in this assessment. Granted, it was not a horrible episode of the show. The jokes were on-point, the gags were set up well and nothing was really out of place; the real problem I had with this episode was the gimmick that overtook the whole episode. “It’s a 30 Rock reality show!” Oh yay. Considering the annoying format they decided to throw the show into, they handled it fairly well, but it just wasn’t that enjoyable. This show is best when it’s doing its own style and using that to comment on whatever Tina Fey and the writers have beef with this week. Taking on the Real Housewives-style format really has less strength as a parody than those last 60 seconds of “Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning” back in January.
“My single, 'My Single is Dropping' is dropping." –Angie
The entire episode played out like an episode of Angie’s Bravo reality show, Queen of Jordan, complete with the opening sequence, shots of big, fancy houses, cuts of Angie and friends in ridiculous poses on colorful backgrounds, and of course, nonsensical catch phrases. First off, Angie is blowing up now that Tracy is out of the picture for a bit and we’re just as anxious to get him back to TGS as Liz “Another Person” Lemon is. Jack enlists Lemon to help Angie get set up to perform her new 15-second single, “My Single is Dropping” (which is probably better than “Tardy to the Party” or “Money Can’t Buy You Class” simply because it’s shorter and we never have to hear it), because he’s hoping Liz can convince Angie that she misses Tracy and get him back to the show.
This portion of the episode was a little tired, mostly because we already had this dynamic play out when Angie became Liz’s intern and the idea for this awful show was born. I did enjoy the fake email Liz drafted for Angie (“all the sex things you like”), but for the most part, it really just served as a vehicle and excuse for more Lemony digs at NBC and Bravo – “Legal says we can’t use the word ‘best’” to describe the TGS “Best of” show. We eventually find that Angie does want Tracy back but that he won’t listen – but not before we see Liz dress her up in an Amy Grant outfit. She would.
And as much as Angie’s little minions needed to be a part of the show, they were annoying without adding much humor. They were really just cartoon versions of all the people I can’t stand on every reality show and frankly I don’t want to see any versions of those people on a show I actually like, ever.
“I only pass gas once a year atop a mountain in Switzerland.” -Jack
The one great thing about this reality show format was how quickly it unraveled Jack’s reputation and how upset he got about it. He’s the one person who should be above all of this, but by the end of the episode he’s made a complete fool out of himself – falling on camera, making Grizz and Dotcom think he’s in the closet, and of course the fart noise on the chair. It’s always hilarious to see Jack get swept up in situations he should by all rights be immune to and of course, it’s a dig at the reality format because it make anyone look like a douchebag.
“Drunk Actress Brainstorm.” –Jenna
Jenna’s character is one that’s perfect for this episode’s gimmick. Not only does she use the cam-er-ahs as an opportunity to promote her new Goop-ish website, Jennas-Side.net (kudos on that one, writers), but she’s constantly carrying around a glass of wine in hopes of throwing it at someone (at least without them dodging it like Liz did). This whole plot was the perfect home for Jenna’s crazy and for once, she didn’t bother me; it was actually hilarious.
When she coerces Pete into throwing her an intervention, it was getting a little annoying but Pete, wonderful Pete, comes up with the perfect ending: sending her to a rehab in Minnesota. Genius. Of course she doesn’t go because she knocks her escort out with a wrench, but it was about time they put all that Jenna crazy to really good use instead of giving her a two-bit unfunny side story.
“Skeletor's not my favorite. You are.” –Frank
I miss seeing Frank on this show, I really do; and while this storyline made me uncomfortable, I was definitely giggling under my furrowed brow. Guest star Susan Sarandon plays the Mary Kay Letourneau to Frank’s Vili Fualaau. If that was lost on you, basically he had an affair with his 8th grade teacher, who went to prison and came out as Susan Sarandon with Frank-style glasses. This was really the perfect back story for Frank; it explains why he’s a man-child, we get to see his comic book and action figure collection, and it all ends in pure Frank Rossitano-brand awkwardness when he fries his Skeletor action figure at the fast food joint where his former teacher/ex-con/lover now works in order to prove his love to her. This is the 30 Rock we love, that awkward, taboo show that makes us laugh at things we shouldn’t – like when Pete says it’s creepy when male teachers hit on girls but what happened to Frank was “AWESOME.” It's hilarious, but those of us who laughed may be going to hell for it.
All in all, like I said up top, this episode wasn’t terrible. It still relied on the writing that makes the show great. The problem is that the package they delivered the story in was just too obnoxious to full enjoy the quality of the jokes themselves. While I liked the titles they gave each character at the bottom of the screen ("Tracy's Gay Boss"), I really would have preferred if the actual reality show element stayed in the hilarious tag (keep an eye out for Dotcom’s little tiff was a dog – golden) and was left out of the rest of the episode.