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Capone says HOPE SPRINGS is a solid adult drama, anchored by two strong performances!!!

Published at: Aug. 11, 2012, 2:01 a.m. CST by Capone

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

If you think you're walking into a comedy about an older husband and wife going in to tune up their stale, repetitive marriage and being forced to talk about sex and inner feelings, you're only about half right. Fortunately, the part you're wrong about is replaced by something quite a bit more dramatic than the marketing for HOPE SPRINGS would lead you to believe.

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep (two fine actors when they set their minds to it, I think we can all agree) star as Arnold and Kay, married 30 years and in a routine/rut that is painful to watch. She slides him the same breakfast every morning, he reads the newspaper, she announces what will be for dinner that night, he says what time he'll be home, and the two never make eye contact. They sleep in separate beds, naturally, at first because he needed the space to recover from a procedure, but then just because. The film never tries to pin the blame for them getting to this place on one or the other, although because Kay is the one to suggest the therapy, we tend to side with her—though not always.

Both characters are painted as repressed in every sense, especially sexually, but it's clear that any expression of emotion or intimacy is met with confusion, and often rejected. When Kay announces to Arnold that she wants to enjoy her life with him again by going to a week of therapy in Maine under the guidance of Dr. Feld (Steve Carell, playing things as a total profesional), he rejects the idea without a moment's thought, but after she threatens to go without him, he relents and complains about how much money they're spending almost the entire time. She endures it because he's there.

The movie goes from good to nearly great during the therapy session, and there are several lengthy exchanges between the doctor and his couple, who sit at varying distances from each other on the couch, depending on how well their at-home exercises went the day before. But in these sessions, the couple's deepest, most intimate moments come out, and many of them are not pleasant. Turns out they stopped having sex partly because she lost interest (if she ever had any) and partly because he just hopped on, did his business, hopped off. The humiliation Arnold and Kay are experiencing is written all over their faces as they discuss their fantasies, openness to even just touching each other, and their brief but beautiful honeymoon years.

Director David Frankel (MARLEY & ME and THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA) has a solid sense of when to turn up the emotional awkwardness and when to let things just be nice between the couple. In one promising sequence, Arnold attempts to surprise Kay with a romantic dinner and a stay at a much nicer hotel than the motel they are staying in to save money. And as quickly as things start to get hot and heavy, they collapse into a horrible mess. Sex (talking about or having) is rarely played for laughs in HOPE SPRINGS, but if you do laugh, it might be because of the sheer embarrassment that the patients have in talking about it.

Among writer Vanessa Taylor credits are "Alias" "Everwood," "Game of Thrones," and HBO's "Tell Me You Love Me," which was one of the most brutally honest characterizations of various relationships I've ever seen on television. HOPE SPRINGS isn't quite to that level, but it's also impossible to dismiss its most emotionally heavy moments. Things wrap up a little too quickly and neatly, and even a film this wise can't avoid the occasional unnecessary music montage, but for the most part, Streep and Jones keep Hope alive with some especially fine work. All of that being said, do everything in your power not to see the movie with your parents if they are around the age of these two characters; that would be humiliating for everyone involved.

-- Steve Prokopy
"Capone"
capone@aintitcool.com
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