Directed by David Frankel. Starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue, Mimi Rogers, Jean Smart 15A cert, general release, 100 min
SAY IT QUIETLY lest we alert the sacred-cow police. That slightly daffy fusspot that Meryl Streep has been perfecting over the past 20 years is beginning to wear a bit thin. You know the one. She leans the back of her hand against her cheek and chatters through a cascade of nervous laughter. But we can’t really blame her. Hollywood tends to offer older women little else but biddies and witches. Still, Streep is capable of much better.
This oddly pitched but largely tolerable comedy drama – there are jokes, but the themes are serious – offers a classic instance of that creation in action. Meryl and Tommy Lee Jones play Kay and Arnold, a couple from whose life all romance has drained.
In a rash move, Kay books them into a sort of week-long retreat at a town burdened with a name so blunderingly metaphorical it also serves as the title for the film. They will be under the care of a smugly non-judgemental psychiatrist played by Steve Carell.
Hope Springs seems somewhat unsure in its attitude to Dr Steve. Much of what he says bubbles like verbal snake oil (touch yourselves, discuss your fantasies) and Carell’s status as a comic encourages us to share Arnold’s grumpy disdain. But his advice has the desired effect. Kay and Arnold begin to achieve an emotional renaissance. Maybe this sort of guff plays better in a country more soaked in therapy-speak.
For all the film’s manifest flaws, however, it proves hard to dislike. Who could resist a showdown between two such formidable stars, even when both (Jones does his sour, squinty thing) are coasting? It’s no mean feet to seem connected when playing people drifting rapidly away from one another. But Jones and Streep give the impression that they’ve been eating breakfast together since the 12th century.
Hope Springs tells lies about relationships. It features an unnecessarily queasy, insufficiently funny sex scene in a public place. But the stalwart leads won’t allow you to entirely dismiss the thing. Oh, heck. They’ve earned the right to tread some water.