After thirty years of marriage “Kay” (Meryl Streep) and “Arnold” (Tommy Lee Jones) have got stuck in their ways. Their adult kids come for dinner and ask what they bought for their birthday present, “extra channels for the cable TV” is the unromantic answer.
The couple are in love, in a safe, living together way but the spark and intimacy has been lost. Arnold watches golf on TV, eats nacho’s and sleeps in the other room due to his bad back.
Kay decides to put their marriage on the line, when she signs up for intensive couples therapy in “Hope Springs” with Dr Feld (Steve Carrell). Booking and paying for everything, Kay confirms she will be on the flight, whether Arnold comes along or not.
Dutifully and in bad humour, Arnold turns up and through subsequent sessions and assignments, the couple learn to understand why they have drifted apart. They attempt to fix what is perhaps not broken but in need of severe maintenance.
If this sounds like serious stuff it actually is, despite what trailers may lead you to believe this is more serious drama than comedy. There are moments of amusement, Streep and a banana, french films for the over 50’s but the film does justice to the subject matter and quality of actors on board.
It goes without saying that Streep will be believable and is as good as ever, Jones can play the grump without breaking his stride but here infuses Arnold with just enough sensitivity to feel real. Arnold is not a “new age man” but he knows enough to realise, he is not trying hard enough. A particular hotel scene is played very effectively, heart breakingly so in many ways.
Carrell plays it almost completely straight, which in this role is the only way his character could be taken seriously. He asks the awkward questions and both partners wriggle and squirm in their attempts to avoid the awkward answers. One of the assignments seems to come from left field but presumably the director wanted a comedic scene to lighten the mood.
The main actors work well together, including a brief but important scene with Elizabeth Shue and film fits together well. As mentioned before, this is a serious watch and ideally not a film to watch with friends and family.
Ultimately better suited to the small screen but like many recent films targeted to the “older set”, the film has performed well at the box office. A further indication that the “grey box office” dollar is increasingly valuable.
A film then to be savoured, with relatively small aspirations to which it largely lives up to, certain to send anyone under forty back to playing Angry Birds on their mobile.
A lighter directional touch and occasional different screenplay choices would have broadened the appeal but lost the harder edged content. The movie has something to say and seems intent on getting the message across, even if this darkens the mood of the piece.
Drama masquerading as comedy but with excellent performances from the three leads this is a worthwhile watch for those over forty.
For those born after 1972, or for an audience looking for more comedy, see also “It’s complicated” with similar themes and “interior design porn” to boot.