Hope Springs (2012), the new US rom-com from The Devil Wears Prada (2006) director David Frankel, could easily have been given a full title of ‘Hope Springs Eternal’, so clear and transparent is its message about ‘keeping the faith’ through life’s rockier times. Academy Award winner Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as ageing couple Kay and Arnold, whose marriage seems to have lost some of that vital ‘Je ne sais quois’ as their relationship enters its twilight years.
It’s not that the pair have fallen out of love per se, but rather that they’ve grown overly comfortable in each other’s company. In an attempt to rediscover the ‘special’ quality she feels her marriage has lost, Kay books an intensive week long session with whizz-kid counsellor Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) in a sleepy fishing village on the Maine coast. However, it transpires that the last thing Arnold wants is some ‘quack’ telling him how to fix what he doesn’t see as broken, and the resulting battle of wills between him, Kay and Feld offers much of the film’s finest moments.
Frankel, Streep, Jones and Carell could do this kind of film with their eyes closed and, as such, Hope Springs doesn’t really aspire to break any new ground. However, it’s this sense of secure familiarity which makes the movie so endearing. Like a favourite armchair or a pair of well-worn slippers, you know exactly what to expect and that there are unlikely to be any unpleasant surprises.
Hope Springs employs this said familiarity to its advantage. From the quaint New England harbour town of Great Hope Springs to the tweed jacket of Carell’s therapist, there’s an underlying air of reliability which allows the viewer to sit back, relax and enjoy its easy humour and the chemistry between Streep and Jones. The story, both witty (a scenario involving Streep, a sex-tip book and a banana will surely crack a smile in even the sternest of faces) and touching in its depiction of the struggle Kay and Arnold undergo to rekindle their lost spark, should resonate with the majority of cinemagoers.
In this modern Hollywood age of crass humour and shallow feelings, Hope Springs’ old-fashioned message of optimism and perseverance may be considered somewhat twee and unrealistic. However, if everyone’s being truly honest, isn’t Frankel’s final message of acceptance and contentment what we’re all perhaps striving for?