[Review] – Hope Springs

29 Aug

Title: Hope Springs
Year: 2012
Director: David Frankel
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue
MPAA Rating: PG-13, mature thematic content involving sexuality
Runtime: 100 min
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Metacritic: 66

I have a total and unapologetic love for The Devil Wears Prada. I read and like the book, and then I saw and absolutely loved the movie. Everything about that film was pretty great, the soundtrack, the fashion, Anne Hathaway and, of course, most of all, Meryl Streep as the inimitably ruthless Miranda Priestly. That role got Ms. Streep her 14th Academy Award nomination, and even though it would take her three further tries to finally win her third golden man last year, it really was a terrific performance that only a living legend like her could have played that well.

Well, now she’s reunited with David Frankel, the man who directed her in The Devil Wears Prada. And while that film was super hip and would totally captivate the general audience (and it did, raking in over $325 million worldwide), this one is definitely designed as much more adult-oriented fare, and it should really be just as successful. Hope Springs is amazing at what it does, offering some real, adult laughs instead of the typical cheap, scatological jokes we’re used to nowadays, and, most importantly, delivering a really neat look at relationships not just as they’re starting, but rather once they’re decades into a marriage.

The reason why this film works as well as it does, and I really thought it worked tremendously, is really plain and simple: Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones put on a masterclass in acting on display here. They play Kay and Arnold, a couple that really does love each other but that, like in any relationship, has let things go a bit stale after decades of marriage. Arnold is the kind of grouchy man who likes his routine, but Kay wants to spice things up and work on their relationship, and manages to finally convince him to try and visit a renowned couple’s specialist in Great Hope Springs. And so, the film will be all about how they get that spark lit up again.

What’s more is that this really could have turned out quite horribly. It could have been too schmaltzy or too dull or too a lot of things, but this one’s genuinely funny and it has a lot of heart. And it’s all because of these actors: you have the actress who to me is the greatest who’s ever lived just giving this tremendously charming performance the likes of which only she can deliver, and then Tommy Lee Jones is impeccable, maybe even better than Ms. Streep if you can compare the two. And then there’s Steve Carell as the counsellor, and his performance is just as pitch-perfect, delivering a wonderfully subdued turn that acknowledges that the film is not his, but his co-star’s.

I wouldn’t call Hope Springs, the film, great, but once you factor in the performances it boasts, especially the one by Mr. Jones, you kind of have to reassess that maybe a little bit. I pinpoint that performance the most because this is the kind of character Ms. Streep in her sleep (mostly because she can play anything in her sleep, it seems) but the character Mr. Jones plays is quite different from the fearless man he usually portrays. In this one, the only thing fearless is his performance, because Arnold is just vulnerable and not really confident and quite shy; and yet the performance is a thing of beauty.

The film has made nearly $45 million so far, but I really hope that number grows, and that older audiences who usually feel there’s nothing for them in theaters find out about this film, at least a few months from now when the blu-ray hits the shelves. This film is just wonderful in too many ways for it to be missed out on, not just because of the magnificent acting on display, but also because it kind of shows some balls in how it approaches this subject, and talks about it with far more honesty than any other star-boasting, end-of-summer movie would.

I really appreciated that, the honesty with which this screenplay dealt with things. It was written by Vanessa Taylor, who wrote a couple of episodes for the great but short-lived Tell Me You Love Me on HBO, which was the most painfully honest look at relationships seen on television in quite some time; and here, even though of course this is much tamer material, she really touches upon interesting stuff again. It’s a screenplay that pays attention to the counseling sessions, played wonderfully straight by Mr. Carell, and that doesn’t go for the formulaic developments that would have been so much easier for it to reach. I loved that.

Yes, you can say that it’s formulaic in its structure, with the progress and failures and the sweetness, but even if the events are what you’d expect them to be, what transpires within them really isn’t. Much like The Devil Wears Prada was better than the average chick flick at absolutely everything, Hope Springs is better than its peers at everything, too. It’s far more honest, it has better performances, and even though there have been films that are about the exploration of relationships, this one has probably half an hour or more entirely devoted to hearing people talk, in depth, about what’s wrong, what’s right and what could be better in their three-decade marriage. It’s fantastic.

I loved this film, it’s really as simple as that. I could have done with a different score, which was the one thing that kind of annoyed me about this whole film, but the performances alone are worth the price of admission. And again, we know Meryl Streep could do this, she’s the best there’s ever been, but Mr. Jones is a surprise. I mean, we shouldn’t be surprised because he’s amongst the very best as well, but this is a man that’s known for how he just commands authority in every frame, and here he sheds all of that and gives us a very real man that we can feel for. This is just pure acting, take it in and be appreciative of it.

Grade: A-

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2 Responses to “[Review] – Hope Springs”

  1. dbmoviesblog August 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Wow, just wow, this trailer actually made me laugh out loud, and that never (well, almost never) happens. The film looks great, and your review is very insightful. It’s actually curious how many good ‘retirement’ films we see this year, from ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ to ‘A Simply Life’ and now this.

    • ArtfullyBedraggled August 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

      Yeah, definitely give this one a chance, the performances are just out of this world. And, agreed! Seems like studios have realized there’s a nice little niche there when it comes to mature audiences; haven’t seen A Simple Life though, but it looks good!

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