Over-powered, in fact. Streep and especially Jones deliver vital performances that almost make the familiar story of a sex- starved marriage seem as fresh as it might have been in a pre- Dr. Ruth world.
Celebrating their 31st anniversary by splurging on a new cable TV package, Kay and Arnold (even their names seem dated) long ago settled into a passion-free empty nest. She cooks eggs every morning, he falls asleep watching golf every night.
After a humiliating failed seduction, the emotionally wounded Kay insists on a week-long marriage retreat with a renowned therapist (Steve Carell). Arnold begrudgingly traipses along from Omaha to the quaint Maine getaway -- the town that provides the punning title -- complaining the entire way.
“I’ll tell you how I feel about this,” he spits after the shrink encourages honesty. “I hate it.” The screenplay, by Vanessa Taylor (whose credits include HBO (TWX)’s brutally incisive couples drama “Tell Me You Love Me”), has more sting than Frankel can handle.
Even after the movie signals its mushy destination -- often to the accompaniment of on-the-nose song choices like “Let’s Stay Together” -- “Hope Springs” surprises with moments of intimacy, sexual and otherwise.
But like the marriage it depicts, the film settles into routine. Counseling sessions (Carell’s dialogue is little more than a set-list of shrink questions, agreeably performed) alternate with Kay and Arnold’s homework: “sexercises,” advancing from cuddling to consummation.
Though the racy encounters are timed to comic beats -- Streep overdoes the blushing, even as Kay purchases bananas for practice -- the sexercises typically end in hurt feelings and tears.
With the slightest change in tone (Mike Nichols was initially attached to direct), “Hope Springs” could have been much darker, and something more memorable than two fine actors showing their stuff.
“Hope Springs,” from Columbia Pictures, opens today across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)
They play Marion and Mingus, an artist and a radio talk- show host living together happily enough with kids from previous relationships until her family invades.
The occupying army numbers three: her father (Albert Delpy, the director’s real father), her sister (Alexia Landeau) and her sister’s obnoxious boyfriend (Alex Nahon), who’s also her ex. (They all played the same roles in Delpy’s 2007 “2 Days in Paris.”)
Whether their conduct is merely inappropriate or truly sociopathic is up for debate. (The boyfriend invites over a drug dealer, for example, who sells him grass in front of the kids.) What it’s not is funny.
More stabs at cuteness include Marion using hand puppets to fill in her child, and the audience, on the picture’s back story. Mingus tells his troubles to a life-size cut-out of President Obama.
When a neighbor complains about the family’s behavior, Marion flusters her, Lucille Ball style, by claiming to have cancer. The woman’s husband, a doctor, soon shows up at the door, offering to help. Once he spies Marion’s half-dressed sister, he doesn’t want to leave. I did, though.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Very Good ** Good * Poor (No stars) Avoid
To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at email@example.com. Craig Seligman at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at email@example.com.