I don't know about you, but Parenthood destroyed me last night in the best way possible. Granted, emotions already run rather high on New Year's Day (it's a lethal feelings cocktail of hopefulness, regret, motivation, and lethargy) and calling a Parenthood episode a tearjerker is as much an oxymoron as the very jumpo shrimp you wolfed down on New Year's Eve, but still, this one was a doozy, even by Parenthood standards.
That's because Kristina Braverman's storyline (played with such awe-inspiring poise and skill by the Emmy-worthy Monica Potter) continues to be one of the most inspirational, heartbreaking, but above all, human ones on television. Potter has taken viewers along on Kristina's journey, never leaving out the ugly bits that come with battling cancer and certainly never making us feel manipulated by the high drama. When Kristina made a farewell video for her children before spending Christmas in the hospital, it wasn't schmaltzy or tugging at the heartstrings for TV's sake, rather, Potter has made us come to know and love Kristina so well, viewers knew this is just exactly the type of thing this amazing mother and wife would do.
Even though Kristina has already been through the ringer, cancer continues to be one unfair S.O.B. to this fighter. Before the opening credits even started, Potter gave one of the best performances of 2013. (Yes, I realize we are only two days in, but, believe me, she rightfully earns the praise.) While out for drinks and dancing with the rest of the grown-up gals in the Braverman clan (there is nothing more entertaining than watching the Braverman's attempts at boogying down) a happy and free Kristina was unfairly hit with a dose of grim reality when a chunk of her hair fell out at the bar. It was an absolutely devastating moment, watching the horror, sadness, and sheer embarrassment that swept across Kristina's eyes and the reactions of her helpless, heartbroken family members. There was one word for it, really: Oof.
Potter's abilities to play a range of emotions was even more evident when Kristina took the matter into her own hands, literally, and shaved off her hair. Kristina was both terrified and liberated, anxious and accepting of her new fate as a bald woman. So when her well-meaning husband Adam (the terrific Peter Krause) had an inadvertently scared reaction, it understandably, sent Kristina into an emotional tailspin. Matters didn't get much better when the still well-meaning Adam bought her a terrible hooker wig when he discovered her looking at them online. While some may have viewed it as an insensitive gift, I chalked it up to the fact that — totally unscientific stereotype alert! — men don't typically notice things like hair. Adam is simply doing his best in a situation he has no idea how to navigate. And the very same could be said for Kristina. Their fight over the wig was one of the hardest things to watch out of all this, because not since Eric and Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, has there been a more realistic, aspirational couple. (Boy, that Jason Katims really knows how to write about marriage, doesn't he?)
But then, something wonderful happened. Thank goodness. I needed the break. Kristina, in a sexy red wig, showed up at Adam's job to whisk him away for a romantic overnight getaway. You know, just in case Adam and Kristina didn't make you swoon enough. At a swanky hotel, Kristina got hit on by Kyle from Party Down (actor Ryan Hansen) and Adam wore a "Merv Griffin" jacket during an ultimately failed seduction. It was all just so damn wonderful and much-needed relief not only for heartsick viewers, but the Braverman couple, who needed a holiday getaway more than anyone else. Of course, this being Parenthood, the waterworks swelled right back on cue when Kristina proudly goes wig-less, holds Adam's hand, and heads out into a brave new world as her beautiful self, both inside and out.
Yes, I know I omitted the rest of the happenings of those lovable Bravermans, especially considering this was a week Joel and Julia actually had an interesting storyline (hey, in Victor's defense, who hasn't wanted to throw something at Sidney?) and they've somehow managed to do the impossible by turning Ray Romano into an attractive love interest. But even though it's a wildly impressive ensemble and the show simply wouldn't work without all of these families, this season simply belongs to Kristina Braverman and Monica Potter. She's earned it.
[Photo credit: Danny Feld/NBC]
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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.