Selected relesease (100 minutes)
THERE'S something modest and appealing about Hope Springs, at least at the outset. It's a gently comic tale of a marriage foundering in diminished expectations. Meryl Streep (wistful, fluttering) is Kay, and Tommy Lee Jones (crusty, uncommunicative) is Arnold: they have been married for more than 30 years but now occupy separate bedrooms.
He's an accountant, she works in a clothes shop, and they have settled into a routine that leaves her increasingly dissatisfied. What she wants, she comes out and insists, is a real marriage. At her instigation, they go for a week-long course with a couples therapist, Dr Feld (a twinkling, benign Steve Carell, playing it straight) that takes place in a picturesque seaside town in Maine.
Dr Feld's intimacy exercises pose challenges and, at first, it seems that the gruff, unwilling Arnold will undermine things before they even get started. Streep and Jones give game, sympathetic performances, they work hard to give their characters a sense of specificity, and it never feels as if they are playing for laughs.
Yet, gradually, a sense of well-executed blandness sets in. The film feels too tentative, too reassuring - there's a kind of timidity to Hope Springs that is both its strength and its weakness. It has a determined ordinariness, a lack of interest in grand gestures. But somehow it never pushes things quite far enough. In the end, Hope Springs feels like the most amiable of feature-length advertisements for the virtues of couples counselling.
Director David Frankel seems perfectly at ease with all this restraint, although it's a different story when it comes to the music: there's a key scene in which an Annie Lennox song becomes little more than a blunt instrument.