Hope Springs: Meryl serves up her standard Streepyness in her new film

Streep fans rejoice: the three-time Queen of Oscar isn’t slowing down at all
August 08, 2012

Time Investment: 100 minutes

Return on Investment: 68 minutes

It’s rare when a film does exactly what you think it’s going to do and still manages to remain watchable. The simplistic, just slightly underwhelming Hope Springs (Sony Pictures) owes its watchability, of course, to its veteran headlining stars Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, who play a long-married couple who have totally and unequivocally lost the flame of passion in their marriage. This problem is hammered into us over and over again from the absolute get-go, with Jones essentially giving us a picture of what Agent K‘s home life must be like (this is basically the same character from Men in Black: brusque, unsmiling, all business). As Meryl fusses over his breakfast every morning and looks increasingly discontent, the stage is set for her eventual breakdown, a shit-hitting-fan moment. But it never really happens; instead, she buys two plane tickets to a Maine town where a famed marriage counselor (played straight as an arrow by Steve Carell) offers intensive couples therapy, and off they go. The simplicity of the plot pretty much stops there, as the pair engage in various exercises prescribed by Dr. Carell with very mixed results.

Surprisingly, Hope Springs plays very neatly within the gender lines, presenting the wife as a lonely woman in need of some tenderness and the husband as some sort of hardened ogre who forgot what it means to love his wife. Only once does the script intimate that maybe, the husband might have some sensitivities and desires that have been long forgotten as well. But the film is ultimately winning due to these actors’ seasoned and subtle talents; when Jones begins to open up and confront some of his hang-ups with sex and intimacy, he breathes new life into the proceedings. And to be clear, there is a very simple and solid reason Meryl Streep is always being nominated for everything: her work is so utterly detailed and captivating, even here. As the soft-spoken wife to a man who has been distracted by life for decades, you can actually hear her character’s submissiveness and ability to enable in her voice; judging from that element alone, it’s fairly astounding that this is the same woman who gave voice to Margaret Thatcher in last year’s Iron Lady.