Review: Hope Springs (2012)

Director: David Frankel

**

(This review was originally published on Ramp.ie)

Is it ageist to say we don’t want to hear Tommy Lee Jones talking about sex? No disrespect to the man; he’s happily married and has a certain gruff and husky charm. However, there’s something about hearing this renowned grouch discussing threesomes and sexual fantasies that sends a chilly shiver down the spine. Hope Springsis akin to the first time your parents tried to explain the birds and the bees – you don’t want to think of these people as sexual beings, but as the talk continues you’re left with little choice.

David Frankel directed the fluffily enjoyable The Devil Wears Prada, aided by a wonderfully bitchy turn from Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway’s doe eyes. With Hope Springs, Frankel doesn’t really seem sure if he’s got a comedy or a drama on his hands. When Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) go to an exclusive marriage counsellor to jump start their thirty-year marriage, we’re given a scenario that could go either way, but can’t decide on a tone. Jones being grumpy and stubborn about going to the counsellor is funny, but then Streep pouts and weeps and suddenly we’re in a drama. The counsellor is played by Steve Carell? Then surely it’s a comedy! Unfortunately, he plays it straight and raises precisely zero laughs. Frankel and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor must think the idea that old people could be sexually active should raise titters on its own. The therapy scenes are as uncomfortable as you’d imagine, but the filmmakers’ willingness to play the characters’ problems for laughs makes any potential tenderness ring false. A charming date segues into the bedroom, but any attempts at romanticising what follows are po-faced. This is a common pitfall in rom-coms: if the ‘com’ comes from mocking the ‘rom’, you’ll be lucky if either ‘rom’ or ‘com’ actually works.

The great pity about Hope Springs is that it could have worked well as a drama, at least based on the chemistry between Streep and Jones. His grumpiness and her mousiness combine to make a very pleasant pair. Indeed, their spark is the only energy going in Hope Springs. It’s talky, not very funny and wastes plenty of valuable assets on the way, including Carell and Elisabeth Shue, who’s put behind a bar and given about two lines of dialogue. Despite all the sex talk, Hope Springs is a tame and safe affair, lacking anything approaching spice. Given the protagonists’ sexual problems, it’s perhaps appropriate that Hope Springs is one big anticlimax.

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