Friday, December 28, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Hope Springs (2012) ***

PG-13, 100 min
Director: David Frankel
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell

The greatest strength of “Hope Springs”, beyond the monumental talents of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones that is, is that its plot is never distracted by the typical Hollywood screenplay 101 junk. That’s not to say it doesn’t follow a formula. That would be too much to ask its target audience to endure. However, it doesn’t bother with all the superfluous junk that’s usually found in a Hollywood formula. There are no subplots, no extraneous characters, no false conflicts, no stupid misunderstandings. This movie is about one problem, and it concentrates on that problem with the same ferocity that solving that problem really takes.

That problem is — how do you save a dead marriage? Streep and Jones play a couple married for 31 years, and finally Streep has reached the breaking point. Something must be done to re-inject passion into their lives or she won’t be able to stay any longer. Jones is a man steeped in his daily ritual. When Streep asks him to take an impromptu “vacation” to see a marriage counselor in a remote costal town in Maine, she’s asking him to move a mountain. After stubbornly refusing outright, he eventually caves when he realizes she may just be leaving for good.

That’s enough about what happens, because that is fairly easy to predict. It is how it happens that makes the movie successful. The filmmakers show us nothing beyond Streep’s and Jones’s characters. We see a good deal of the therapist, played by Steve Carell; but even he is given nothing more to do than provide his therapeutic advice. The couple wonders about his marriage situation, but their questions remain unanswered because his marriage has nothing to do with theirs. Elizabeth Shue and Mimi Rodgers appear in cameo roles, but they are only day players. Their characters don’t stick around beyond their effect on the couple’s marriage.

I was concerned when the plot delved into scenes involving Streep masturbating and the two actors exploring some sexuality. I wasn’t sure how far the movie would go, and I really didn’t want to see a sex scene between these aging acting masters. The film did pull up the reigns before anything got into inappropriate territory, but I was worried I would see something I didn’t want to.

I would imagine that this movie might work as an introduction to the idea of couples therapy for those finding themselves in similar situations. It looks frankly at its subject matter, and it provides some insight. Streep and Jones keep their roles interesting and bring enough humor to their roles to keep the material entertaining. It’s a pleasing and unobtrusive movie, but its focus also keeps it poignant.

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