Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones pair up beautifully in Hope Springs, a drama with just enough laughs to qualify for the film's "romantic comedy" label. But the strong acting of the two leads is in service to a well-intentioned but very talky script by first-time feature writer Vanessa Taylor and isn't nearly as entertaining as it would like to be. Certainly, it pales next to The Devil Wears Prada, the 2006 movie that was the first collaboration between Streep and director David Frankel.
Not that the subject matterwhich focuses on an upper-middle-aged housewife trying to put the zing back into her marriage by visiting a sex therapist with her reluctant husbandwould suggest otherwise. We are far from the glitzy world of high fashion in Prada. Instead, we find ourselves stuck in the nicely decorated though blandly familiar home of Kay, a wife and mother with a part-time job who yearns for intimacy and, better yet, a hot time under the sheets from her dry-as-dust husband of 31 years, Arnold (Jones' character).
After sketching out in the first few moments the emotional downturn of the couple's marriage, Kay makes a sudden decision to shake up the relationship by enrolling the pair in an intensive week with a nationally renowned couple's therapist, Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell, who is restrained in a nothing role). She heads for picturesque Hope Springs, Maine, where the doctor lives; at the last minute, Arnold unwillingly goes along.
Basically, the rest of the movie veers back and forth between the couple's cramped motel room and the doctor's office, as Kay and Dr. Feld struggle to get Arnold to participate in the therapy. Kicking and screaming, this feisty crabby pants gradually, finally does. Late one night, Arnold gets up from the pull-out sofa and climbs into bed at last with Kay and awkwardly, tentatively holds her as instructed. This breakthrough, however, is only the beginning of the long road back to intimacy and a fulfilling sexual lifefor Kay and Arnold as well as viewers, who are forced to endure all the icky, painfully uncomfortable moments right along with the couple.
We mostly get Kay and Arnold engaging in the "assignments" from Dr. Feldstuff like Kay secretly devouring the best-seller Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man, complete with a peeled banana clutched in her hand at the ready and later trying to spice things up by giving Arnold a blow job in a darkened movie theatre. This admittedly low comedy scene is brought off with expected finesse by the actors; however, as it unreels part of you also can't help thinking about 17,000 other things you'd rather do than watch than Meryl Streep trying to give Tommy Lee Jones head.
Jones, who has spent practically his entire career playing crusty characters who reveal glimmers of emotional depth at just the right moment, expertly does it again here. Streep, too, has been down this path before, playing the desperately lonely Kay, whose body language and pleading eyes telegraph her feelings. And although hope does eventually spring and blossom for Kay and Arnold, as noted, it's as long a haul for the audience as, apparently, it is for them. As the layers are peeled away, a lot of humiliating stuff comes outbut these things never really get resolved or fully addressed, as the goal of the couple getting their mojo back seems to be the doctor's primary ambition. Ironically, the movie, too, has intimacy issues that it never takes the time or seems to have the inclination to address.
Of related interest: Unforgivable, the latest from openly gay French writer-director Andre Techine, is a romantic mystery thriller that also focuses on a middle-aged couple. Crime writer Francis improbably finds love with Judith, a one-time model turned realtor he meets when he moves to Venice. After the two marry, he becomes obsessed with his wife's activities and eventually hires an ex-con to follow her whereupon, of course, the plot thickens. The subtitled movie opens exclusively at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. www.musicboxtheatre.com
Former soap star Murray Bartlett stars in the gay indie film August as hunky Troy, who is thinking of moving back to Los Angeles after living in Spain for several years. One of his first calls is to his ex-boyfriend, Jonathan (Daniel Dugan), who has been happily involved with Raul (Adrian Gonzalez) for years. But apparently, contentment is not a many-splendored thing as a steamy triangle soon forms, with each of the characters re-evaluating his commitment. Although the film comes up short in the plot department (we've been down this road many times before in queer cinema), it's beautifully filmed and scored, nicely acted and is far enough away from the usual queer-relationship drama to make it worth noting. On DVD from Wolfe Video
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