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.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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The sum of all grosses for The Sum Of All Fears was $18.7 million, enough to keep it in first place over a generally blah box office weekend.
Moviegoers said yeah-yeah to Ya-Ya, launching the summer's first chick flick, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, in second place to $16.4 million.
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones slid 34 percent to third place with $13.9 million. Bad Company opened fourth to a not-so-good $10.5 million. Spider-Man dropped 30 percent to fifth with $10 million.
Hollywood suffered across the board from the combination of beautiful East Coast weather, major sports competition -- including Friday's NBA basketball finals and Saturday's Stanley Cup hockey finals, Belmont Stakes horse race and Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight championship fight -- and the absence of any new high profile event movie openings.
But even with the weekend's lackluster grosses, ticket sales were still nearly 9 percent ahead of this weekend last year. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- took in about $103 million versus last year's $94.4 million.
THE TOP TEN
Paramount's PG-13 rated thriller The Sum Of All Fears held on to the top spot in its second weekend with a still powerful ESTIMATED $18.7 million (-40%) at 3,218 theaters (+35 theaters; $5,811 per theater). Its cume is approximately $61.8 million.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson and produced by Mace Neufeld, it stars Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
"It didn't hold as well as I had hoped it would hold," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning, noting that the overall marketplace was "extremely soft yesterday."
Asked where Fears is heading, Lewellen replied, "I think it gets to $100 million and a little over, but we certainly had anticipated based on the opening level and the playability of the film that it would go far beyond that. So it's somewhat disappointing. But that's not to say that it can't come back."
What accounted for this weekend's softness across the board? "The quickest thing that jumps out is the fight last night," Lewellen said. "Then, of course, they had the hockey playoff that went into triple overtime. Do I believe that that's what all of this is (about)? No, I don't. I know that the East Coast had extraordinary weather yesterday. It was like 70 degrees and beautiful skies -- one of those '10' New York days, you know. And that always has an impact on you there. But I still find it difficult (to believe) the market is this far below where we had projected it even after we had the Friday figures."
Industry projections circulating Saturday morning had all of this weekend's top films doing considerably better than is reflected in their Sunday estimates. "I had us at $20.5 million yesterday," Lewellen explained, adding that he also had the other Top Five films doing better than they're reporting today.
Warner Bros. and Gaylord Films' PG-13 rated drama Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood kicked off in second place to a cheerful ESTIMATED $16.35 million at 2,507 theaters ($6,522 per theater).
Directed by Callie Khouri, it stars Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, James Garner, Ashley Judd, Shirley Knight, Angus MacFadyen and Maggie Smith.
Ya-Ya's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
"We're pleased with Ya-Ya. It's a solid opening," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "It performed better than we expected. We were looking at somewhere in the $15-16 million range."
Moviegoers liked the movie and, as a result, it should have favorable word of mouth. "Its CinemaScores and the exit polls that we conducted were great," Fellman said. "All the CinemaScores were A -- even for men. The audience was predominantly younger and older females, but the male response was very, very favorable. With good word of mouth, I think we'll be around for a long time.
"Callie Khouri did a great job. This opening becomes the personal best for Sandy Bullock, whose previous best opening was $14.8 million (for the weekend of July 26-28, 1996) on A Time To Kill."
20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm's PG rated franchise installment Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones dropped one notch to third place in its fourth week, holding well with an ESTIMATED $13.88 million (-34%) at 3,161 theaters (theater count unchanged; $4,391 per theater). Its cume is approximately $255.0 millio n, heading for $300 million or slightly more in domestic theaters.
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace took in $431.1 million in domestic theaters. Its worldwide total (domestic plus international) was $923 million.
Directed by George Lucas, it stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen.
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Jerry Bruckheimer Films' PG-13 rated action film Bad Company, whose plot involves CIA efforts to keep terrorists from obtaining a nuclear device, opened in fourth place to a disappointing ESTIMATED $10.5 million at 2,944 theaters ($3,553 per theater).
Directed by Joel Schumacher, it stars Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock.
"We had great talent and great filmmakers and they worked their butts off," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "Unfortunately, as you know, in our business there are no guarantees. Kind of like yesterday's (Belmont Stakes) race where we all thought War Emblem (was the favorite) and he ends up finishing out of the money. Unfortunately, it looks like that happened to us. The good news is that it's a long summer and the CinemaScores were decent so we should be around for a while."
Asked if he thought the male appeal Company was hurt, for example, by the televised NBA finals, Viane replied, "I think it's a combination of things and when you add them all up they mean something, but to point to one item, I just don't know."
Columbia's PG-13 sci-fi fantasy blockbuster Spider-Man slid two pegs to fifth in its sixth week, still showing decent legs with an ESTIMATED $10.0 million (-30%) at 3,235 theaters (-411 theaters; $3,091 per theater). Its cume is approximately $370.1 million heading for $420 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Sam Raimi, it stars Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris.
"It's its sixth weekend in double digits," Sony spokesman Steve Elzer said Sunday morning. "Actually, it's its fifth weekend in double digits. One weekend was in triple digits."
DreamWorks' G rated animated feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron dropped one slot to sixth place in its third week, holding well with an ESTIMATED $9.4 million (-17%) at 3,362 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,805 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.8 million. Spirit's decline of 17 percent was the smallest drop for any film in the Top Ten this weekend.
Directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook, it was produced by Mireille Soria and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated urban appeal comedy Undercover Brother skidded three pegs to seventh place in its second weekend to an unexciting ESTIMATED $7.31 million (-39%) at 2,169 theaters (+2 theaters; $3,370 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23.6 million.
Directed by Malcom D. Lee, it stars Eddie Griffin, Chris Kattan and Denise Richards. Its producers are Brian Grazer, Michael Jenkinson and Damon Lee.
Alcon Entertainment's R rated thriller Insomnia fell two rungs to eighth place in its third week via Warner Bros. with a less thrilling ESTIMATED $5.89 million (-41%) at 2,458 theaters (-152 theaters; $2,396 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.8 million.
Directed by Christopher Nolan, it stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank.
Columbia's PG-13 rated thriller Enough slipped two slots to ninth place in its third week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.6 million (-47%) at 2,388 theaters (-235 theaters; $1,508 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.6 million.
Directed by Michael Apted, it stars Jennifer Lopez.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Universal and Studio Canal's PG-13 rated romantic comedy drama About A Boy, from Tribeca and Working Title, down two slots in its fourth weekend with a quiet ESTIMATED $2.74 million (-33%) at 1,619 theaters (-137 theaters; $1,685 per theater). Boy, which only cost $27 million, has a cume of approximately $32.5 million.
Directed by Paul Weitz & Chris Weitz, it stars Hugh Grant, Rachel Weisz and Toni Collette.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Fine Line Features' R rated drama Cherish to an uneventful ESTIMATED $40,000 at 6 theaters ($6,667 per theater). Written and directed by Finn Taylor, it stars Robin Tunney.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend IFC Films' PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding went wider in its eighth week with a solid ESTIMATED $1.6 million at 444 theaters (+208 theaters; $3,670 per theater). Its cume is approximately $10.9 million.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $102.73 million, up 8.86 percent from last year when they totaled $94.37 million.
Key films were down 12.87 percent from the previous weekend of this year when they grossed $117.91 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of Swordfish was first with $18.15 million at 2,678 theaters ($6,776 per theater); and DreamWorks' fourth week of Shrek was second with $16.52 million at 3,715 theaters ($4,447 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $34.6 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $35.1 million.