film review: hope springs
Hope Springs opens with Kay (Meryl Streep) sheepishly attempting to suggest she and her husband of thirty-one years might like to share the same bed for once— a feat at which she fails miserably. This moment just about sums up her marriage to Alfred (Tommy Lee Jones), which has become predictable, unromantic and bereft of closeness of any kind. Alfred doesn’t appear fussed, going about his day with a grunt here and there, but for Kay, life like this is simply not enough anymore. Determined to make a change, she heads to the self-help section and picks up a book by the therapist Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell), who runs week long intensive couples therapy sessions in Maine and promises results.
Kay dips into her savings and books the therapy for her and Alfred—setting her back no less than four thousand dollars— and announces that she will be going, and her husband can join her if he wants. Alfred is baffled by this new behaviour, but his wife isn’t bluffing, and he joins her despite his grumbling. Whinging about everything in Maine from the shutters on the buildings to the overpriced eggs and bacon, Alfred seems to determined to ensure this therapy does not work. Dr. Feld’s sessions place the couple in some hilariously awkward situations, and they also begin to uncover uncomfortable truths. It’s not smooth sailing, but both Kay and Alfred see that if they want their marriage to be about more than cooking dinner and paying bills, then this may be their only chance.
The film’s two leads are characters you can believe exist, which makes the situations they find themselves in both more amusing and more moving. Kay is instantly endearing, while Alfred is a complicated character; his grumpy barking seeming to hide the fact he shares Kay’s desire for a more meaningful relationship. His transition from incommunicative and unmotivated to a man who is willing to fight for his relationship is fairly predictable—the movie’s tone is simply too funny and upbeat for it to become too unhappy. That’s not to say it isn’t emotional, though, and there is just enough seriousness in the film to make it more than fluff.
Steve Carrell is perfect as the smooth-talking but ultimately kind and patient therapist, proving he can play roles that aren’t funny just as well as those that are. Streep is unsurprisingly wonderful as Kay. She wears her emotions on her sleeve, playing a vulnerable person who is as unsure of herself as she is of her husband. One of the most poignant scenes though, is actually between only Alfred and Dr. Feld- a turning point where Alfred finally begins to realise what he stands to lose.
The film explores some interesting themes around gender roles in relationships and sexuality—it is perhaps surprisingly thought provoking for a rom-com. The overriding message of this film though, is that if you want something in life, you have to ask for it- and you should not be ashamed to do so. Kay has been suppressing her needs for years, all because she has been too afraid to state them or has never quite been sure if it’s okay for her to have them. As its title suggests, this film is ultimately hopeful, with plenty of cleverness and humour thrown in to make it a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
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