Based on the commercials used to promote the film, you might expect Hope Springs to be a comedy about an older couple trying to rekindle their relationship through romance and sex. After all, if there’s anything Hollywood’s taught us about sex, it’s that sex between older people is supposed to be funny, right?
Not so much in this case. At its core, Hope Springs is very much a film with a healthy, grown-up take on sex in relationships long past the initial rush of feelings. With Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones at the center of the film, Hope Springs largely succeeds in expressing a thoughtful message quite unlike what filmgoers typically expect from major studio fare.
Streep and Jones play Kay and Arnold, a couple who have been married for 31 years. As the film opens, the couple are utterly conventional: they sleep in separate rooms, follow a very basic daily routine, and made a large new cable subscription their anniversary gift to each other.
Things take a turn, though, when Kay hears about Dr. Feld (Steve Carell), a couples therapist who works with couples in sexless relationships. Kay ultimately convinces an reluctant Arnold to go with her to meet with Dr. Feld for a week in a charming Maine town, where they spend the bulk of the film discussing their sexual past and the issues that have come from it.
What’s remarkable about the story is that, while there is some comedy mined from these discussions, the topic as a whole is taken seriously. There are a number of emotional, gut-punching moments in the film, and the way both Streep and Jones play them is outstanding. Kay’s tentative first steps at addressing the problems in the relationship feel very real, as do Arnold’s expressions of reluctance at addressing something he sees as perfectly adequate.
Carell also shines in a role that’s not flashy, by any means. His therapist is not the standard movie therapist who always offers brilliant ideas; rather, he serves as a sounding board for Streep and Jones to open up, serving as an audience surrogate at times.
It’s easy to find films that talk about love in its shiny and new state, or that make fun of longer-term relationships. Hope Springs is something rare – a film that dares discuss what makes a relationship work down the road. At times, it’s serious enough that audiences will likely find themselves uncomfortable in its mirroring of reality. In a summer filled with top-notch explosive films, Hope Springs packs the purest emotional punch of them all.