After 30 years of marriage, a middle-aged couple (Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep) attends an intense, week-long counseling session to work on their relationship.

3.5
Old lovers' fresh start has the smarts.

Once upon a time, I pitched a treatment for a horror film to Hollywood’s Asian remake king, Roy Lee (The Ring, The Grudge, Shutter), and he gave me an interesting response that has prompted many a cynical smile. Rather than criticise the treatment’s contents for the usual flaws that keep multitudes of post-Syd Field writers in regular pay cheques, Lee simply said my story was interesting, but his problem was that he 'couldn’t visualise the trailer".

"[The writer] dares to prod emotional sore spots and massage them back to robust health".



Does Hollywood always envisage the trailer and work backwards? Are they making two-minute films in the hope of selling tickets to 100-minute versions of the same thing? If you’ve seen the 'tick all the boxes’ trailer for Hope Springs you’d be excused for thinking so. You’d also know from the trailer, that Hope Springs is the story of sixty-something housewife, Kay (Meryl Streep), who is bored with her sexless, though not quite loveless, marriage to golf-obsessed, accounting, curmudgeon Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones). The set up for jokes comes from the ultimatum Kay gives Arnold about attending one week’s intensive relationships therapy with counsellor Dr Feld (Steve Carrell), who gives them 'sexercises" to rekindle their dormant intimacy.

There’s not a lot in the film that isn’t present in the trailer. Certainly all the best jokes are there. Few new humorous revelations are to be had. But sustaining those jokes beyond the momentum of editing, audience expectations and a trailer’s two-minute time limit, Hope Springs also supplies, with subtle ease, the necessary emotional substance to engage, entertain and even move.

Part of that depth is the finesse the stars bring to their roles, giving their characters full life. Despite her best efforts, Streep’s comic timing early in her mostly dramatic career was woeful (Postcards from the Edge anyone?) and has improved immeasurably. Steve Carell reins in his usual broad performance to make his therapist actually human. And is there any film that has allowed Tommy Lee Jones to be this vulnerable as he contemplates his male – both sexual and non-sexual – frailty? Not to mention funny.

But the pleasure of Hope Springs is not just the wisdom of the actors’ choices. It’s there in Vanessa Taylor’s script, too. The screenplay doesn’t dwell too long on it, but its mid-point makes the gentle assertion that Kay – not Arnold – ended the couple’s sex life many years before. In doing so, Taylor brings the film to a poignant level that doesn’t just point the finger and laugh, but dares to prod emotional sore spots and massage them back to robust health.

Each scene elegantly interlocks into its next part with an efficiency that hints at Hodges’ writing and producing career in series television (Alias, Game of Thrones). Mercifully, David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) directs in that anonymous TV style that has no auteurist imprint but knows enough not to get in the way of the actors or the script. As a result, the film’s conclusion gently sneaks up, leaving audiences hungry to know more about Kay and Arnold even as they get to learn even more about each other.