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Hope Springs isn't a great film, but it didn't have to be in order to distinguish itself. In a media landscape that only has eyes for the sex lives of nubile young things, Hope Springs' sincere, considered, and unembarrassed exploration of mature sexuality marks a welcome exception.
Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) have been married 30-odd years. Routine rules their days, starting with the eggs and bacon Kay fries up for her husband every morning and concluding with the golf shows Arnold falls asleep to every night. That routine is a balm for gruff Arnold, but a bane for Kay, who longs for more intimacy, or at least to be looked at like something more than a reliable appliance. At her breaking point, she books them a weeklong intensive couples' retreat with a celebrated relationship therapist, Dr. Feld (Carell, playing straight).
Though the trailer is cut to frame Hope Springs as a comedy, I don't remember it that way. Yes, there are top laughs, but what settles like sediment in the brain is how the film picks at fresh scabs, over and over, in elucidating the ways a long marriage may founder – through miscommunication, inertia masquerading as comfortableness, and repeated sexual rejection.
Director David Frankel's (The Big Year) approach is workmanlike at best; he gets the job done, despite a disappointing inclination toward dopeyness. (He also desperately needs a music supervisor that doesn't gravitate toward a playlist that better befits an airport bathroom.) The writing has done the heavy lifting in Frankel's best films (Miami Rhapsody, which he wrote, and The Devil Wears Prada). Here, he's blessed with a sensitive script by Vanessa Taylor, who's done notable television work on Game of Thrones and the underrated family dramas Everwood and Jack & Bobby (which she also co-created). In Hope Springs, she's scripted no end of aching interactions – some defined by hard truths frankly stated, others defined by a deafening silence – and Frankel wisely trains his camera on the couple in crisis, fidgeting on Dr. Feld's couch, then gets out of the way. Streep and Jones – both so vulnerable, so moving here – know exactly what to do.