Hope Springs | Film reviews, news & interviews
Even Meryl Streep can't quite make the earth move in this formulaic autumnal romcom
Even Meryl Streep, bless her, is allowed the odd dud, and Hope Springs is a snore. Much has been made of the film shifting Hollywood’s attention toward the middle-aged – meaning, in their terms, anyone 20 or older. But director David Frankel’s reunion with his Devil Wears Prada star merely proves that dogged earnestness can be just as soul-sapping as the latest teenage gross-out venture. One can’t imagine Prada’s Miranda Priestly sitting this one out without a well-aimed mot juste.
Perhaps Streep just wanted a complete about-face after the demands of The Iron Lady, the actress turning for her follow-up effort to a Nebraska housewife, Kay, who is as put-upon and indrawn as her Margaret Thatcher was on the attack. Married for 31 years to the gruffly recessive Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), Kay knows there must be more to life than dutifully serving up bacon and eggs every morning and retreating to separate bedrooms in the evening.
Hope springs in the form of a marriage counsellor, the soft-spoken Dr Feld (Steve Carell), who practises in the wildly picturesque, if fictional, Maine town that gives the film its title. So off Kay goes, dragging along a reluctant Arnold, who could be a stand-in for any of the ornery spouses who will be dragged by their wives to see this film when they would most likely have preferred to stay in and watch the golf.
One keeps waiting for some surprise – a scintilla of originality or wit – that might lift Vanessa Taylor’s script beyond its drearily preordained path toward connubial rejuvenation. (At idler moments, I found myself wondering whether Carell’s blankly conceived character might turn out to be gay, facilitating the revelation of Jones’s closed-off Arnold as a closet case. But no.) The couple go to a French film (zut alors!), share a slap-up meal (with wine!), and work on their bedroom skills (oral sex!) - a sexual adventure preceded by a scene of Kay pleasuring herself, a first for an actress who has done almost everything else.
The triple Oscar-winner is, in fact, pretty much the only reason to see a film whose determination to be formulaic nonetheless can’t constrain her remarkable talent. Looking both heavier than usual and heavy-lidded as befits the role, Streep carefully calibrates the progression charted by Kay from mouse to tigress, her timid way with words leaving us in doubt that this woman is awaiting her chance to roar. (Where, by the way, are the couple’s children, a visit or two from whom might at least have given the plot a lift?)
Carell has a genuinely nothing role which he fulfils amiably enough in a part that quite literally could have been played by anyone. Absent are the teasing vigour and wit that, for instance, Stanley Tucci brought to the subsidiary landscape of Prada. Looking oddly shrunken, Jones effects variations on the grump that seems to have devolved into his stock-in-trade, though one’s on the side of the film in agreeing that you would have to be vaguely bonkers not to respond to Streep, no matter how much she hides her natural radiance behind Kay's glasses. The film ends with a jolly knees-up at which everyone appears to have been having a good time. I’m glad someone was.
Watch the trailer to Hope Springs
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Richard Linklater's life-enhancing epic gets a frills-free DVD release
Charming Disney animation gives way to superhero spectacle
Memories of the Holocaust, and Alfred Hitchcock's attempts to sum up its visual testimony
Charlie Lyne's enjoyable documentary celebrates the teen movie but lacks rigour
Human nature is tested to destruction in Alex Garland's Artificial Intelligence thriller
Chekhovian break-up hits higher-end Bolivian society, strangely compellingly
Period crime drama packs a quietly potent punch
Alain Robbe-Grillet's modernist, sadomasochist cinema games revived
Unenlightening day-in-the-life portrait of French national broadcaster Radio France
Vera Brittain's First World War memoir prettifies the pain
Oscar contender and sleeper success is whiplash-smart
Art-house blaxploitation with a surreal edge is seen in full after four decades