In just over a week, Paramount and MGM will release a new romantic comedy starring two of Hollywood’s most accomplished actors; Merryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Working under the direction of David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me) Streep & Jones play Kay and Arnold, a Mid-western couple seeking marital counseling from Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) in the hope of recovering the warmth and intimacy they enjoyed in the early years of their 3 decade-plus marriage. While not new, the premise invites fresh interpretation from its leads.
Vanessa Taylor has been involved in writing and producing dramatic television-series material for over 15 years, (Game of Thrones, Tell Me You Love Me) but this is her maiden voyage as a feature film screenwriter. While she obviously intends to offer a light-hearted exploration of redeemably-lethargic marital ennui, her dialogue lurches from emotional bathos to supposedly-naughty innuendo and back again, creating a string of disconnected scenes which appear to be designed for commercial interruption, an event certain to occur when this 100-munute exercise in self-conscious condescension moves from the big screen onto lots of unsuspecting little ones. In the hands of an insightful director, the results might have become mildly diverting, but Frankel’s gooey interpretation of this material, (especially its thoroughly-anticipated climatic turnaround) only test his audiences’ collective gag-reflex.
Streep & Jones have amply demonstrated that, over a combined total of 141 screen performances, they’re masters of subtlety-but Taylor’s lumpish script and Frankel’s clueless direction turns the work of both these gifted actors into caricature; he the boorish, insensitive white collar office worker, she a dithering housewife incapable of telling her husband their marriage is a barren, hopeless mess.
In films as diverse as Lonesome Dove, No Country For Old Men and In the Valley of Elah, Jones has demonstrated a brilliant capacity to fuse a character’s anger with the pain of its underlying source; here, his Arnold is all venomous piss with no redeeming vinegar. The result is worse than simple cliché; it converts Jones into something he’s never been before: boring.
Whenever the subject of sex surfaces in their counseling sessions, Streep’s hands to flutter to her bosom, the sole indication that Kay’s ambiguous feelings about her sexuality and its permissible expressions underlie at least some portion of the couple’s problems. Beyond that overworked gesture, Streep’s lines make it impossible for this gifted actress to create anything other than a simpering middle-aged wreck of a woman. How could anyone find her attractive?
If Hope Springs was meant to be a vibrant burlesque of middle class sexual suppression, it completely misses the mark. If its creators intended a thoughtful examination of the roots of marital decay, the movie’s clichéd lines given the cast render that impossible. The result? A cringingly awful waste of acting talent in a chick-flick gone irredeemable wrong.
The Verdict? Everyone associated with this self-conscious exercise should hang their heads in shame.
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