Cast: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Director: David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada)
When I saw it: Aug. 7, 2012
Where I saw it: Rave Dayton South
Why I saw it: Love the two leads.
Quick. Think about two people older than 60 having sex.
What was your reaction? To giggle? To grimace? To understand? Or to know?
Whatever your reaction might have been, Hope Springs just might surprise you. It certainly did me. It pulls off something even more trickier than a Christopher Nolan plot: It talks a lot about sex with people who have a lot of birthdays - and takes it absolutely seriously.
The trailer for this movie make it look like a breezy, light romantic comedy. It doesn't exactly lie - the movie is often light and breezy. But just as often, it's dramatic, moving and even revelatory.
When most movies feature older people in a sexy context, it's usually for cheap laughs, whether it's the horny grandmother in Runaway Bride or the sight of Terry Bradshaw's bare ass in the aptly named Failure to Launch. But Hope Springs is a refreshingly different animal.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as a couple nearing retirement age. There's nothing really wrong with their marriage. They don't fight, they're not harboring deep, dark secrets, and they're well-adjusted to being empty-nesters.
And yet, at the same time, everything is wrong with their marriage, because whether they're willing to admit it or not, Jones and Streep are miserable. One day, Streep finds a book about how to put "that spark" back in your marriage, and she resolves to take the author's therapy, much to Jones' dismay.
It all sounds like the setup for easy, predictable laughs - oh, look, the old couple is embarrassed to talk ab out sex. Ha-ha. But as the movie goes on, it only becomes more serious - and more impactful.
This is due in no small part to the stellar cast. It's no surprise that Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep can act the hell out of a scene. What is something of a surprise is to watch them do it without their usual affectations. For once, Street isn't putting on an accent, prosthetics, or a giant attitude. Jones doesn't try to get laughs just by being deadpan. Both of them are playing utterly normal people - and that only makes their performances more engaging. The same, too, must be said for Steve Carell, who has a knack for playing button-downed, stressed out geeks. Here, he plays the role of the doctor absolutely straight - and is wonderfully empathetic as a result.
I was only sorry to see Elisabeth Shue playing such a tiny, inconsequential part as a barmaid. Considering her stature, it was disappointing to see her in what amounted to a walk-on role with only about four lines. I can only guess that her role must have been downsized in the editing room. Considering how well the movie turned out, I wanted to see more of her.
It's also gratifying to see the screenplay not resort to all the old cliches. There's not a tearful confession about some heretofore untold sins of the past. There's no scene with the grown-up kid being the wise old sage. This is a movie about two people trying to learn to love one another again and finding out that's easier said than done.
One could argue the movie ends a little too neatly, but regardless, this is a sleeper that's bound to wake more than a few couples up. In an age where sex talk is reduced to sniggering over 50 Shades of Grey, it's nice to see instead men and women of many more shades.
Cinematographer: Florian Ballhaus, son of Michael Ballhaus, whose credits include Goodfellas and The Departed
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1
Runtime: 100 minutes
MPAA: PG-13, which is a little surprising considering the sex talk is rather frank.