'Hope Springs' a good-hearted film

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep in Hope Springs. (Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.)

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep in Hope Springs. (Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.)

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:03 AM ET

What often seems like the world's longest Viagra commercial, Hope Springs is a sweet, slight, domestic drama about a 31-year married couple who haven't had sex in years and who finally seek counseling.

That the couple is played by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones is utterly appropriate, since Jones in real life is a bottled-up, uncooperative and unresponsive interview, and he's not exactly acting when he responds thus to questions from a celebrity marriage guru, played by Steve Carell.

Don't be fooled, incidentally, by the way the movie is packaged in the trailers. This is not a comedy per se, and Carell plays it absolutely, almost antiseptically straight. What laughs there are, are supplied by Jones in his awkward attempts to come to terms with his own feelings and recapture a sense of intimacy with his wife. Tommy Lee Jones loosening up -- now that's acting.

And really, who'd have thought they'd ever see a movie with Meryl Streep in it, where someone else does all the dramatic heavy lifting?

As Hope Springs begins, Kay (Streep) is trepidatiously fine-tuning her sexiness in front of a mirror, with a mildly revealing negligee. She enters her husband Arnold (Jones)'s bedroom. Let the discomfort begin.

Rebuffed, and back in her own bedroom, we see that this is a marriage on autopilot in which Kay feels trapped, a robotic state of affairs that has her surfing the net for a savior -- whom she finds in Dr. Feld (Carell), a marriage counselor who runs a pricey couples retreat in Great Hope Springs, Maine. An ultimatum follows, and after refusing in every way possible, Arnold has a last minute change of his flinty heart.

Jones' bitching about everything from the high prices to the inescapability of lobster as a menu item, gives Hope Springs a certain abrasive light-heartedness for a while. But the movie's raison d'etre is to remind this couple why they're married (or why they should divorce - in an interesting insight, Dr. Feld notes that as many couples come to him for advice on splitting up as staying together).

Hope Springs is a change of pace that doesn't overreach. Nor does it plunge very deeply into any dark corners of its characters' psyches. It is a good-hearted little film that isn't for everybody - particularly not for younger people who find the very idea of sex between people in their '60s, you know, gross.

But it speaks the truth -- with tension-easing bouts of levity -- about the tendency of long-term relationships to fall into routine. The last act is a little pat, but it would be a hard heart indeed that didn't respond to Kay and Arnold's awkward voyage of self-discovery.

And hey, from my standpoint as an interviewer, if the movie teaches Tommy Lee Jones to loosen up answering questions about himself, I consider it a bonus.

 This film is rated 14A. 


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