When Meryl Streep’s character calls her 31st wedding anniversary an “off-year” at the beginning of “Hope Springs,” she means more than the odd number of years she’s been married to Tommy Lee Jones’ character. She’s talking about the entire last year of her marriage. It’s been an off year for them. In fact, it’s been an “off” few years for the couple that married young but have grown steadily apart since.
As the story begins, Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Lee Jones) are sleeping in separate bedrooms. The couple is still happily–or more accurately, complacently– married, but they find themselves in different worlds. At first, the bed situation seems like a strange one but as Arnold explains, he was injured one day and found that sleeping in his own bed helped relieve the stress on his back. Days sleeping alone turned into weeks and sooner or later, sleeping apart became their new normal.
And one of the great things about “Springs” is its comfort understanding the normalcy of long relationships. The marriage at the heart of the story didn’t fall apart one day. The couple’s passion for one other just slowly faded, and they accepted sleeping in separate beds the same way that they accepted the lack of physical contact and that their marriage was becoming stale.
Kay–in a last-minute bid to save the marriage–decides to attend a marriage counseling session led by a stoic relationship expert named Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell). Playing against type, Carrell serves as a referee between the grumpy Arnold and the emotionally-unfulfilled Kay as they discuss their long relationship.
The story never lets these actors create truly memorable characters but it’s charming enough to earn a few laughs along the way. As the couple struggles with their marriage, it’s difficult not to become involved in the situation and feel attached to them. A 31-year marriage is nothing to scoff at so audiences will likely find themselves rooting for the main characters and hoping that things eventually work out.
From an acting perspective, the three leads all give themselves over to the roles. Especially surprising is Streep’s performance. Earlier this year, she won her third Oscar for playing the tough and purpose-driven British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Her role as Kay is completely different. Kay is fragile and mousey. She has dreams she wants to fulfill, but it’s tough for her to verbalize them.
Lee Jones and Carrell also do admirable jobs here, and the former is particularly affable as the lovable and emotionally-distant husband.
I saw this film at a screening sponsored by the AARP and was surrounded by people who fit the film’s key demographic and enjoyed it. And despite my not fitting into that older age group, I appreciated much of the sometimes raunchy comedy and the characters.
“I want a real marriage, Arnold,” Kay states in the movie and “Springs” – despite its weaknesses – offers an honest and welcome story about a long-married couple still trying to make their relationship work.