Hope Springs

Year of Release: 2012     Directed by David Frankel.  Starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell.

The best thing about Hope Springs is Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep, who both give stellar performances.  The veteran actors play Arnold and Kay, a couple married for thirty-one years, who have lost nearly all the romance from their relationship.  They sleep in separate bedrooms, which they are reluctant to share with one another.  Nor do they communicate their thoughts, emotions, or concerns.  When Arnold kisses Kay goodbye before leaving for work, it is clear that that action has become a thoughtless routine.

The opening scene shows Kay attempting to make herself sexy so Arnold will sleep with her.  When he expresses clear discomfort at the idea, she goes to bed disheartened.  The next day is their thirty-first anniversary.  The only thing they did to celebrate is have their two children over for dinner and buy a new cable television subscription.  Kay decides that she wants to return their marriage to the way it was, supposedly full of passion with the two of them constantly growing in their love.

She discovers a marriage counselor, Bernie, (Steve Carell) who lives in Maine and offers intensive week-long therapy sessions to troubled couples.  Arnold is less than enthusiastic about the prospect when Kay informs him of her plans to meet with this counselor.  However, he ultimately decides to accompany her.

The meetings with Bernie are predictably awkward and painful for both Kay and Arnold.  Streep and Jones are very convincing in their roles, making the therapy sessions very believable and discomforting for the audience as well.  Carell adds to the realism of the scenes through his empathetic listening and quiet seriousness, and it was enjoyable to watch him play a serious role.  As Bernie grills them about their sex life, the movie does not wish to titillate the audience or score cheap laughs.  As discomforting as these scenes are, the movie treats the subject with much respect and portrays the disarray of Kay and Arnold’s marriage as tragic.

However, there are some very crass moments, especially when the movie attempts to make fun of the awkward sexual tensions as Kay and Arnold attempt to reinvigorate their sex life outside of the counseling sessions.  While the scenes during the therapy are presented respectfully, almost all sexually themed scenes outside of Bernie’s officer are depicted as humorous when they are really just as tragic.

The acceptance of any forms of sexual gratification within marriage is highly problematic.  The procreative aspect of sex is never discussed, and even the unifying aspect is downplayed as subservient to the pleasure of the couple.  An attempt of Kay’s at sexually pleasing Arnold does end in failure and makes matters worse; however, the failure is due to Kay acting artificial rather than being herself.  There is a subtle acknowledgement that sex is supposed to be a representation of both spouses completely giving themselves to one another, and it should last throughout all of marriage.  But that suggestion is undermined by the clear indication that non-traditional methods of sex are perfectly acceptable.

One element that I did appreciate is that the broken marriage is clearly depicted to be the fault of both Kay and Arnold.  Neither one is more to blame than the other.  Over the years, Arnold has slipped into apathy regarding his marriage, but so has Kay, even though she claims that it is Arnold’s indifference that has damaged the marriage and she wants to save it.  When Kay first declares she wants marriage counseling, she announces to Arnold one day before the counseling session begins that she has booked them a reservation.  At the sessions, when she tries to blame Arnold, Bernie often points out her own shortcomings.  Arnold also has failed in his marital duties as well.  He often belittles and criticizes his wife, which the film depicts as cruel and painful for Kay.

In the end, Hope Springs does acknowledge that for a successful marriage both spouses must make sacrifices for one another, communicate with one another, and grow continually in their love, never accepting a passive, routine relationship.  This can happen in small ways, such as watching TV together or expressing one’s concerns or wishes.  While far from perfect, the positive, albeit secular, portrayal of marriage along with solid performances makes Hope Springs a chick flick with some redeeming content, but that will probably not outweigh the more problematic aspects except for the most discerning viewers.

Content Advisory: Much frank sexual dialogue, several depiction of sexuality, acceptance of deviant sexual acts, and occasional profanity.                      MPAA rating: PG-13

Suggested Audience: Adults with discernment.

Personal Recommendation: D+

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