Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hope Springs Is A Marriage Counseling Movie Filled With Clichés And Lacking In Spark.

The Good: Moments of realism, Good casting
The Bad: Predictable, Nothing extraordinary on the acting front, Set-up with all of the obvious elements for a troubled marriage.
The Basics: Hope Springs is intense and real, but hardly entertaining and not terribly original.

Marriage is a complicated thing. Marriage is complex and there have been problems in marriage since the institution was formed. I have news for you: with the proliferation of information, greater communications options, and a rise of technology without any corresponding psychological growth in the human animal, marriages are only going to get more complicated. As Baby Boomers age, Hollywood is working to find works to get their dollars and aging marriages are one of the topics for films competing for Baby Boomers’ money. The Brits beat Hollywood to the punch with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (reviewed here!), but last year was a good year for the first big push toward courting mature viewers. The biggest release in that regard was Hope Springs.

In courting Baby Boomers, the major studios seem to have forgotten that Boomers have seen and experienced a lot, especially in cinema, and have had more outlets than the prior generations. So, Hope Springs might have been audacious a decade or three ago, but it seemed far more formulaic and predictable now. Hell, the Boomer crowd had the money and interest to keep In Treatment on the air for several seasons; did Vanessa Taylor think Boomers hasn’t seen or known about it? Even without actually watching episodes of In Treatment, with my cinematic and television history, Hope Springs seemed more familiar than fresh to me.

Kay and Arnold have been married for thirty-one years and they now have adult children, an empty home, and separate beds. Kay is extremely sad about that fact, while Arnold seems to accept the relationship with indifference. Kay dips into the couple’s CD to buy tickets to Dr. Feld’s intensive marriage therapy in Maine. When it becomes clear that Kay will leave without him, Arnold gets on the plane with Kay and, following her first victory, they begin the difficult process of marriage counseling with the straightforward Dr. Feld.

Over the course of the week that follows, Arnold and Kay begin talking about all the things they never actually talked about, spending time together, practicing all the things they used to do, as well as trying to do the things they always wanted.

Hope Springs is not bad, but it is nothing special and certainly nothing original. Arnold is characterized as an emotionally-reticent man, whose sex with his wife was pretty much limited to the missionary position. Kay is a sexually-repressed housewife whose inexperience and lack of communication contributed in part to the disintegration of their marriage. And so much initially changes when Dr. Feld just has the two start talking honestly. Communication, of course, being a cornerstone of a healthy marriage, it is usually the element that is most damaged in a relationship in decline and Hope Springs wisely starts with that.

But, as the film goes on, Hope Springs seems less impressive on that front. Dr. Feld never pushes Kay and Arnold so hard that they actually develop a willingness, desire, and ability to communicate with one another. In fact, for an “intensive therapy” experience, Dr. Feld’s office is incredibly safe, unthreatening, and (ultimately) unchallenging. He addresses the surface problems – the effects – instead of the causes of the problems in the marriage and those who have a lot of experience in psychotherapy will find Hope Springs far less impressive than writer Vanessa Taylor and director David Frankel might want. When you’re trying to appeal to the generation that invented “self-help books,” this seems like a critical flaw.

On the acting front, Hope Springs is cast well within the ranges of each of the main three performers. Steve Carell, whose casting as therapist Dr. Feld might have seemed audacious right after he came off The Daily Show, but given works like Dan In Real Life (reviewed here!) where he has played much more dramatic roles, this is not at all surprising for him. Similarly, Tommy Lee Jones playing a grumpy older man who is efficient at his job, but is emotionally reticent has been done to death. In fact, it was done in 2012 prior to the wide release of Hope Springs with Men In Black III (reviewed here!).

As for Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence had nothing to worry about before the Golden Globes; the role of Kay is not one of Streep’s more impressive roles. In fact, it is reminiscent of some of her earlier roles where she was relegated to the supporting wife character who did not have the chance to shine, like The Deer Hunter (reviewed here!). For someone who has played big, dramatic, thematically complex roles, the mousy, reserved role of Kay seems like a huge step back for her. In other words, the role of Kay is well within her established range and she does not surprise the audience with her performance or her mastery of the character.

Now on DVD, Hope Springs has alternate takes, a gag real, and the like. They are fair bonus features for a fair movie. Hope Springs is not bad, it is just nothing new, exciting, or even particularly entertaining.

For other relationship movies, please visit my reviews of:
The Family Stone
Letters To Juliet
About Schmidt


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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