HOPE SPRINGS, a romantic comedy for the older set. That's not right. Not much comedy (except for trailer promotional scenes, which is its own separate editing specialization these days), and very little romance.
Meryl Streep, everyone's favorite mature actress, paired with curmudgeonly Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black’s favorite side kick) as Arnold; both are jailed in a marital dead end. Meryl, as Kay, is at her dowdy best. Formless dresses, perhaps with padding to give her a bulging look focused only on underwear lines and muffin tops. This is a shocking fashion choice for someone whose job is in a clothing boutique and a complete reversal from her Oscar nominated turn as the fabulously dressed Vogue magazine’s Anna Wintour in The Devil Wears Prada.
We meet this duo at the nadir of their long 31-year marriage, now devoid of passion and routinized in a pattern of bored non-communication. They exude a shared life, ground down like a constant purgatory of teeth grinding. Their life is clearly just a stub of what it could have or had once been.
Hollywood attempts to visualize this is as a repetitive breakfast scene as Kay prepares one slice of bacon and one egg for Arnold while he wrestles with the morning paper and strides out the door. They could have turned blue or grown a third arm during the night and neither would have noticed. The day ends with a similarly depressing scene of Arnold asleep in his lazy boy while the TV is on the same program to improve golf swings. Kay washes each dinner dish robotically before she awakens him, and each slumps up the stairs to their separate bedrooms.
So we get the message that things are bad in their suburban paradise in Omaha. Kay drops the bomb that she has purchased a weeklong intensive couples retreat in Hope Springs, Maine with Steve Carrell, as Dr. Feld, a marriage counselor she found online one lonely night. Arnold barely listens as she insists she will be on the plane with or without him the next morning. As she leaves alone, taking a taxi to airport, we are not surprised to see him make it into the middle seat just in the nick of time, seething.
Steve Carrell is outstanding as a smart, smooth, insightful shrink with deadpan seriousness and nary a laugh. His continual analogy is that fixing a marriage is " like a bad deviated nasal septum that needs a quick nose break to repair."
Dr. Feld finally prods Arnold to admit that he believes that Kay is sexually not into 'IT' and ' doing IT' was his ultimate goal. His bad back became separate bedrooms, which become their way of life. No intimate hugs, just a leaving-the-house air kiss, which morphs into a five-year absence of sex that defines their roommate life. Arnold feels his long, suffering abstinence, manifested as faithfulness, demonstrates his loyalty to Kay and nothing more is needed.
Finally, Kay insists on at least being noticed. The therapist office discussions of sex and the lack thereof ensues, punctuated by a sharing of their fantasy lives that clearly had never been discussed, much less acted upon. All this and more is painfully explored by the calm and diligent Dr. Feld, to a palatable discomfort in the theater. It wasn't that 60-year-old sex was icky but talking about it might be even more distasteful than looking at it.
Poor Kay's solution to all their sexual problems seems to be just one good blowjob away to resurrect them into a perfect marriage. Kay keeps attempting to learn how to perfect her technique with bananas and gay men's sex guides. This process provides most of the humor.
They are continually ridiculed as they return to the Econolodge with another sexercise while picturesque, idyllic, New England harmoniousness remains just beyond their door. When the good doctor finally warns Arnold that he is losing Kay, Arnold springs into action, attempting to woo his older ladylove via a good dinner, wine and a room in the rustic B&B above the restaurant. Alas, it all blows up in his face when he typically keeps his eyes shut at the big moment and won’t ‘see her.’
They return to Omaha a dejected and dispirited couple. Kay's final truth is the knowledge that her marriage is NOT the way she wants it to be, but also that being alone might not be preferable. She is a packed bag away from leaving Arnold.
Then the director must have looked at his watch and tied it all up into a happy, although rushed ending..., even as the credits rolled, no less.
I was unmoved, disappointed, and sad that so many people live like this, and by how the story was told. The acting was better then the tedious script by Vanessa Taylor (producer of Game of Thrones) deserved. It was a depressing view of middle married years, a slow slog of mired down, accepted limbo. Endless days of settling for less: less conversation, less commonality, less fun, less playfulness, less touching. The thing missing in nursing homes for residents used to a life of coupledom is no touching: no affectionate squeezes, no hugs, not even a pat on the head, arm, or any body part. Kay and Arnold were living a non-contact nursing home existence and are relationally dead while breathing.
To her credit, Kay rebels but her communication skills were as thwarted and poor as Arnold’s non-understanding of any of it. Yeah, maybe a symptom of this drudgery is less or no sex, but I wanted to scream: it is not only about the sex, since that's the only place Dr. Feld wanted to go. It is just a sign, and maybe not the best indicator of a long marriage that never turned into deep friendship but just a lonely, endless living under the same roof. Just “GETTING IT ON” is not getting it right.