Hope Springs (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Hope Springs (2012)

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Four feature films in and director David Frankel finds himself occupying a niche I didn't realize was missing from the multiplex.  Starting with The Devil Wears Prada he has established a respectable career of making sweet, quietly unassuming films for adults.  He's not going to win an award for being a master stylist anytime soon and, to be fair, Hope Springs could have used a little something extra but that's not really what the movie is about.

Instead, the movie is a rare and honest look at a marriage toward the end of two people's lives that is sad and hopeful.  I was surprised by how far the film was willing to go in portraying the difficulties of two people who have known each other forever trying to renew interest in each other for their final years.  The poster is probably the worst offense that this film has to offer what with the coy sideways glances of stars Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep.  That suggests a smirkfest that the movie, thankfully, does not follow-through on.

Frankel still isn't much of a stylist. This is about as involved as his camerawork gets.

Part of the film's success is in it's simplicity.  Kay Soames (Streep), and her husband Arnold (Jones), have maintained a quiet marriage with few bumps but have settled into a routine that Kay would like to shake themselves out of.  After their one rough patch Arnold developed a sleep issue that caused them to move into separate rooms and there they have remained for several years.  Their relationship is clearly sturdy but Kay's attempts at rousing something different out of Arnold are met with the same kind of clinical analysis he brings to his accounting work.  If things aren't bad, why rock the boat?  But the boat must rock, lest we be left without a film, and she signs them up for a relationship seminar with Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell).

Carrell's appearance and subsequent performance tests the mettle of what this unassuming dramedy can accomplish.  He could play the buffoon as he has been called to do countless times but instead assumes a mantle of studious empathy with sweet effectiveness.  The scenes that form the brunt of the film, with the long-married couple trying to rebuild their relationship in front of this stranger, have laughter but are not played up for laughs.  The screenplay by Vanessa Taylor instead focuses on the little moments of recollection and discomfort when faced with someone whose professional career requires asking the kinds of embarrassing questions they've avoided for years.

But while Taylor's screenplay forgoes big laughs to give quieter moments it cycles back to those performances that give the film it's full effectiveness.  Frankel, if nothing else, has built his career on eliciting great warmth from his performers and taking the situations they are in realistically and seriously (which is part of what made so many people walk away from Marley and Me so upset).  Streep does what she always does and for fans of her other films they'll be satisfied.  I've never been a huge Streep fan and while there are too many scenes of her staring thoughtfully into the night they are balanced nicely by a number of happily nervous tics brought forth in the seminar.

Carrell, like the others, avoid the obvious temptations of their characters and instead infuse them with humor, respect, and empathy.

The real gem is Jones, who gives one of the most adorably awkward performances of the year.  He punctuates his opinions by stretching the final syllable and stopping suddenly, he fidgets around trying to get used to his wife again, and stumbles as he tries to be romantic for the first time in years.  Jones makes Arnold the kind of guy who never gave his sweet side a real chance because life conveniently worked itself around that, but the little smiles and quick pauses for reflection when he finally shares his fantasies and sexual memories are very charming.

Hope Springs is another quiet success for Frankel.  It doesn't seem like he's going to adopt much of a style beyond pointing the camera while people sit and talk but he's got the sense not to push these characters into dramatic excess.  Sometimes the biggest problems get to be dealt with patience and good humor instead of pratfalls and pointless sex scenes.  There's quiet laughs and honesty to be had in just seeing two good people struggle to rediscover each other.  That's good enough.

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Hope Springs (2012)

Directed by David Frankel.
Screenplay written by Vanessa Taylor.
Starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carrell.

Posted by Andrew

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