Old love! And not just sex, but intimacy and compassion, as Steve Carell helps Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones rekindle the dying flames of passion in their long, drawn-out marriage.
“Thank you for not being mean to me,” my wife said while watching Hope Springs together, as if she were just now realizing – thanks to this movie – that husbands can be cool and aloof with their wives. What a charmed life she leads.
It’s the opposite of Kay, the sensitive but emotionally neutered wife played by the wonderful Meryl Streep in Hope. The film reunites the versatile Streep with director David Frankel, who shot her inThe Devil Wears Prada and who explores a far more empathetic side of his leading lady (and leans closer to the tone of his Marley & Me or The Big Year, which isn’t such a bad thing), here.
Kay’s a trooper, holding up her end of a 31-year-old marriage to curmudgeonly Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), her spouse who sits idly as an ever-expanding chasm drives a wedge through their marriage. While Arnold’s content to live out their final days in separate bedrooms, Kay has had enough. She signs the couple up for an experimental, intensive therapy session under the watchful eye of Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell), a soft-spoken psychiatrist who repairs broken marriages with probing questions about sexuality, intimacy and romance.
Hope Springs is a mildly sunnier take on Scenes from a Marriage, an epilogue that catches up with a couple after decades spent in routine have morphed wedded bliss into emotional indifference. And Streep and Jones are remarkable – like, beyond the raised-bar level you already expect from the screen veterans – bringing a lifetime of both personal and professional experience to their candid, emotionally honest parts. Hope isn’t afraid to get uncomfortable as it paints a portrait far too many couple’s will recognize. But the actors’ willingness to lay themselves bare ensures the movie’s success, at least on an emotional level.
The subdued Carell, meanwhile, gets the best seat in the house, watching these titans peel back the layers of a bruised relationship with deliberate candor and spectacular restraint. They are serving a touching screenplay mapped out by Vanessa Taylor, a television writer with episodes of Alias and Everwood on her resume. While Frankel relies on a misplaced set of soft-rock staples in all the wrong places, his generally steady hand makes Hope Springs a surprisingly rewarding sit. Just don’t rent it thinking it’s another laugh-out-loud comedy with Carell, Streep and Jones. That whimsical cover art on the DVD box is misleading. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The supplements on the Hope Springs Blu-ray disc are divided into two categories: Those that are exclusive to the Blu-ray, and those you’ll find both here and on the standard DVD.
Starting with the shared content, users will be able to enjoy a short “Gag Reel,” with Streep laughing loudly enough to blow most of her takes. Those scenes are rescued in the DVD’s “Alternate Takes Gallery,” which approaches four scenes from different angles (with optional commentary by Frankel).
The director also chimes in with a feature-length commentary on the DVD and the Blu-ray. The disc concludes with a Streep-Jones puff piece titled “Inside the Perfect Movie Marriage,” which lets the acting veterans expand on their bankable chemistry, and where Streep laughs again. A lot. It’s sweet that Jones really amuses her, though.
Those who pick up the Hope Springs Blu-ray, however, will be treated to four additional featurettes that explore the characters in the script and the behind-the-scenes process that went into the making of the film. “An Intimate Look at the Making of Hope Springs” is pretty self-explanatory,” as is “The Passionate Performer,” a tribute reel to Streep’s greatness.
Carell opens up even more about Dr. Feld in “The Doctor Is In,” a clip that finally lets Carell be funny (as he isn’t supposed to be in the actual movie). “An Expert’s Guide to Everlasting Passion,” meanwhile, recruits actual psychotherapist Dr. Gary Stollman, author of “Relationship Stalemate: From Roommates to Soulmates,” for his insight into the problems explored in the movie. So you get additional therapy on top of your cinematic therapy. More bang for your buck.