With her children grown and moved out, working a quiet retail job and fulfilling her role as a dutiful wife has left Kay Soames (Meryl Streep) feeling empty. House chores, evenings of empty conversations and watching golf is not what she planned for later life. Unfortunately for Kay, she has a hard time convincing her accountant husband Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) otherwise, as he refuses to admit things are not as they should be in their marriage. After thirty odd years of marriage, that’s exactly what a normal relationship is for him. Enter Dr Bernie Feld (Steve Carell), a couples counsellor in Maine whom Kay wants to try for one week. In a move of desperation, she books the retreat using her life savings and gives Arnold the ultimatum he needs. This doesn’t stop Arnold figuratively kicking and screaming through every move of the retreat.
The great pull in the film is based on the question of whether or not Arnold will stop browbeating everyone into compliance and if not, how long Kay can take it. The brilliance of Tommy Lee Jones in this role is that for all of his hectoring, Arnold is a hypersensitive man who uses his domineering persona to ward off uncomfortable conversations. Of course his greatest match is against the persistent Dr Feld. Early in their talks, Dr Feld approaches the topic of intimacy and sex. After Kay admits they haven’t had sex in years, sleep in separate beds and never even give each other comforting touches, Dr Feld begins a set of tests for the distant couple that give rise to both comedy and a painful awkwardness that reaches out into the audience. When told by Dr Feld to lie holding each other for an extended period of time, the couple plan out the experiment like strangers, finding great difficulty with where to place their arms and where to look. After discussing their fantasies in another meeting, Kay attempts to surprise Arnold by performing oral sex in the cinema. Unsurprisingly, it goes very wrong.
Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan, dry humour is on full speed for Hope Springs. His neurotic, tight-fisted character contrasts well against Streep’s modest, reserved Kay. As usual, Streep delivers a quality performance as the insecure wife who feels both emotionally and sexually cut off from her husband. Her delivery is as modest as her character, which is appreciated best in scenes that could potentially be overacted, such as her confession that she no longer masturbates as it reminds her of what she misses and just makes her sad. Carell as the remarkably believable psychiatrist is an excellent addition; never outshining the main duo but giving impetus for change. The only major disappointment with Hope Springs is the ending. it’s frustratingly forced. It’s a pity the ending note is as dull as the Soames’ old daily routine as it’s an otherwise successful portrayal of long-term relationships. Watch the trailer on MEG.ie.