Saturday, September 15, 2012

“Hope Springs”: Date Night for (Some) Old Folks

There were no young people in the audience with Katie and me last night as we watched “Hope Springs,” a light chamber piece for three A-list actors, Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell. That’s undoubtedly because the movie is about the one subject young people find ickiest: their parents having sex with each other.

It’s easy to see Streep and Jones jumping at the chance to work together as a 31-year-married couple marooned unhappily in Omaha. Sleeping in separate bedrooms for the past four years, they are living out the term of their marriage as though it were a prison sentence for manslaughter, or a seven-year lease on a car that long since stopped being fun. She has not given up hope, though. Learning about a sex therapist who helps couples put life back in their marriages, she ropes hubby into going.

It’s also easy to see Carell jumping at the chance to work with Streep and Jones, and the comic star of “The Office” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” does something remarkable with his role as Dr. Stephen Feld, sex therapist. He plays it completely straight. No mugging, no odd intonations. He sits facing the couple, smiles, and gives them good advice.

Good, that is, if a marriage is reduced to physical intimacy. The unsettling thing about this movie—which has a lot of charm and it has Streep and it has Jones, neither of whom is afraid of showing their age, in fact Jones looks so old Katie thought he was wearing a prosthesis, though I couldn’t imagine what that meant—is that it assumes the basis of all love between men and women is sex and sex alone. And that one good orgasm, for her of course, will set everything straight.

He is locked up in old-man syndrome, she still has a heartbeat, and then they have sex. As the final credits roll, we see them renewing their vows on a beach, with Carell officiating and their two children, a son-in-law, and a grandchild looking on. Carell also seems to be dancing with a random, unexplained woman.

“Hope Springs” is a three-maybe-two-star* date night for old folks—unless the old folks have something better to do with their time together and, like Katie and me, still enjoy it.

* As we drove for ice cream afterward, Katie rated it “four-star, maybe three,” out of five presumably. That she rated the film one star higher than me is a reflection that Streep smiles and feels a lot while Jones mostly scowls. The one time he’s truly happy, Katie thought he “must have taken off his prosthesis.”

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