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.
Based on newspaper columnist John Grogan’s best-selling book about his life Marley & Me is a study of a married couple who happen to own one of the more destructive Labradors known to the canine species. From the minute newlyweds John (Owen Wilson) and Jenny Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) pick out Marley from a pen of cute Lab puppies they realize something’s up when the seller says they can have him for a discounted price. Soon it becomes very apparent Marley is un-trainable as he proceeds to jump and climb and chow down on anything he can. Still John and Jenny fall for the mutt and as their family begins to grow as they change jobs have babies move to new places Marley remains a constant fixture. For better or worse. This marks a sort of comeback for its stars. For Jennifer Aniston it’s a way to clear up all her past movie mistakes. Her portrayal of a woman coping with job marriage kids -- and dog who barks at the garbage truck waking up her napping young children at the wrong times -- shows just how mature she has gotten as an actress. Owen Wilson too has matured and proves he’s good at his craft playing John with equal measures bemusement and joy at how his life turned out. And the two are genuinely convincing as a married couple without any of the clichés. Wilson and Aniston have both had to take a hard look at themselves personally but they seem to have come out stronger on the other side. Also good is Grey’s Anatomy’s Eric Dane as John’s journalist buddy Sebastian an investigative reporter John envies at times. As for the 22 or so dogs who played Marley well director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) should get a medal handling all that canine behavior. He manages to manipulate the camera to get the just the right “worst dog in the world” moments with Marley. Or he may have just pointed the camera at the dog and let the dog handler yell “Go for it!” Either way the dog tugs at your heartstrings. But audiences should know Marley & Me isn’t just a movie about the life and times of an adorable dog contrary to how the studio is marketing it. This is about a marriage and family and all the ups and downs that entails -- and how a beloved pet can be an integral part. If you plan on bringing young kids be warned it might not be a life lesson they need to learn just yet.