GateHouse News ServiceAs estranged bedfellows, Tommy Lee Jones (he’s a little bit Harvard) and Meryl Streep (she’s a little bit Yale) make great combatants in a rousing battle of the sexes refereed by Steve Carell in an ironically idyllic venue they like to call “Hope Springs.”
It’s located in Maine, but the frank talk and frayed feelings are pure south of the border, as the two dip below the belt to deliver stinging blows aimed at a lifeless, sexless marriage knocked cold back when Mike Tyson was wielding punches instead of punch lines.
Thank you director David Frankel –– and first-time writer Vanessa Taylor –– for reserving us a ringside seat for this delectable donnybrook in which both Jones and Streep prove they deserve a title shot with Oscar, and I’m not talking De La Hoya.
Although, clearly, both contenders do deftly emulate boxing’s versatile “Golden Boy” with their dazzling display of smarts and agility, as they dance gracefully about the ring, packing a powerful wit. True, both have been in better shape, but the extra pounds and saggy skin serve them well in stepping snugly into the well-worn lives of Arnold and Kay Soames. Like most folks from Omaha (I know, I was born there), they live a stiflingly dull existence. It’s two fried eggs and a slab of bacon every morning, and two dissatisfied adults and a heaping side of indifference every night. They even sleep in separate bedrooms, allowing them to conveniently shut their doors on the giant white elephant that’s long been grazing in the hall.
It probably would have stayed that way forever if not for Kay taking a little initiative by signing her and her golf-loving, certified-petulant-accountant husband up for a one-week retreat in Hope Springs, Maine, emceed by renowned marital counselor/author Dr. Bernard Feld (Carell). The enrollment is easy, the $4,000 fee, less so. But the real challenge is convincing Arnold to come along. And for a while, especially early on, we’re not so sure we want to go, either. But as exaggeration and predictability dissipate and the truth and claws are bared, you –– like Arnold –– might find yourself riveted by the process.
While Carell does all the orchestrating in his finely tuned role as conductor, Streep and Jones provide the scintillating score with their virtuoso voices and melodic mannerisms. Just watch how Streep fiddles with the buttons on her sweater when Dr. Feld asks Arnold and Kay to graphically describe their sexual wants and needs. It’s just a little gesture, but it communicates so much about Kay’s buttoned-up existence.
Jones does the same, drolly delivering one hysterical line after another, as Arnold reluctantly comes clean about his pent-up fantasies, including one involving a three-way with the yorkie-loving neighbor lady. And where else can we derive the steamy sensation of watching Streep pleasure herself, or experience the orgasmic laughs springing from the priceless look on Jones’ face as Kay jiggles Arnold’s zipper, he juggles the popcorn and they awkwardly attempt a sex act in a crowded movie theater?
In case you have yet to discern the picture’s decidedly blue hue, know that “Hope Springs” is totally off-limits to prudes and –– I suspect –– most people under 40, who will be better off staying home and doing the deed while they still possess the ability and the desire.
Us fogies, though, can fully identify with Arnold and Kay –– sometimes uncomfortably so –– and relish their painful, yet ultimately romantic, journey from antagonistic discourse to passionate intercourse in 10 hilariously uneasy steps.