Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for 31 years. For their last anniversary, they got each other cable. In lieu of a kiss goodbye each morning, Arnold mumbles something about what time he'll get home from work that night. Most evenings, Arnold falls asleep in front of the golf channel (gee, thanks, cable) while Kay cleans up from dinner. Then she nudges him awake, and they wordlessly climb the stairs for their separate bedrooms.

Arnold seems fine with this dispassionate rut, but Kay yearns for something more. When she seeks help in a bookstore relationship section, she happens on a title that offers the exact reassurance she needs: You Can Have the Marriage You Want. Kay researches the author, Dr. Feld (Steve Carell), online and learns that he offers intensive week-long couples therapy in his quaint and aptly named east coast town: Great Hope Springs. Desperate, Kay dips into her saving and signs them up.

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep as Arnold and Kay

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep as Arnold and Kay

Arnold is irate. But, ever the tightwad, he's also torn. With $4,000 already shelled out, they might as well get their money's worth. So he begrudgingly shows up, mostly to complain about how annoyingly quaint and overpriced everything is.

Dr. Feld asks Arnold and Kay to recall how they met and when they were most happy together, but mostly zeroes in on their non-existent sex life. He asks about their fantasies, their positions, their best sex ever. The questions embarrass Kay and annoy Arnold. But they slowly start talking and taking the first tentative steps to bridge the gap between their bedrooms—and their hearts.

One of the best things about Kay and Arnold is that they are amazingly normal. He's a paunchy tax guy in khaki pants, and she's a clerk at Coldwater Creek who wears flowy blouses and fun earrings. They aren't caricatures or stereotypes. They have realistic conversations, or in many cases, non-conversations. Streep and Jones do these characters justice by not overreaching or underestimating—as does Carell with Dr. Feld, a counselor with compassion and insight (how fun to see him be the straight man). They all imbue these characters with believable and likable levels of humanity.

Steve Carell as Dr. Feld

Steve Carell as Dr. Feld

It's utterly delightful to see a cinematic couple fighting for their marriage and showing us the tricky terrain that often follows "and they lived happily ever after." There are some vulnerable, heartbreaking, and humiliating moments that couples, especially those who have been together for a long period of time, will find familiar. And that familiarity will likely be, at turns, reassuring and uncomfortable. The film's ability to elicit both emotions is one of its key strengths.

But personally, I found a few too many awkward moments in Hope Springs. I love the idea of a couple fighting for their marriage, and its advocacy for the fact that people in the AARP generation can still be sexually vibrant. But that doesn't mean I want to see Kay and Arnold fumbling through their attempts at oral sex in a movie theater. Or hear them discussing the possibility of a three-way. Or watch one of them masturbate.

If only the film spent more time in these sessions than in the, ahem, other kind of sessions

If only the film spent more time in these sessions than in the, ahem, other kind of sessions

These latter moments, when the film is more Grandma Gets Her Groove Back, are mostly played for laughs. And in these moments Hope Springs starts to undercut its own strength. Sure, we need a bit of humor in this journey. But I feel like we're laughing more at Kay and Arnold, instead of with them. And that jeering works against the humanity and realism that make the film engaging—and likely relatable to many movie-goers.

I would rather have seen more time on the counselor's couch discussing why Arnold is such a crabbypants instead of watching Kay trying to get into those pants. Whether you find these scenes funny or uncomfortable will depend largely on your sensitivities and attitudes about sex.

Another weakness in the film is the music, mostly heavy-handed pop tunes inserted in key moments. We don't need these musical interludes to tell us how to feel—we have two leads who are altogether capable of communicating a whole range of emotion with their expressions and words.

When the film ultimately reaches a resolution, I feel like we've gotten cheated out of the true process of arriving there. A bit less time spent on sexual escapades and musical montages would have given us time to see that process, which is usually the really good stuff.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. What's your assessment of Kay and Arnold's marriage? What's good and what's not so good about it?
  2. Why do you think Arnold is so resistant to therapy?
  3. Dr. Feld talks some about fear. What, if anything, do you think both Kay and Arnold are afraid of?
  4. One of Kay's friends tells her early in the movie that "marriages don't change." Do you agree or disagree?
  5. At one point Kay says she thinks she'd be less lonely if she were alone. If you're married, have you ever felt that way? If so, how did you move forward from that place?
  6. If you're in a long-term relationship, what are some things that have helped it last so long?
  7. Where do you picture Kay and Arnold in five years?
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The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Hope Springs is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving sexuality. Parents should take these words seriously. Even though all of this sexual content is within the context of marriage and there's no actual nudity, there is an awful lot of discussion about sex—as well as some sexual activity. Kay and Arnold attempt oral sex in a movie theater, Kay masturbates in another scene, and they discuss fantasies, three-ways, positions, and other sexual topics in their therapy sessions.

Hope Springs
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(31 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for mature thematic content involving sexuality)
Directed By
David Frankel
Run Time
1 hour 40 minutes
Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell
Theatre Release
August 08, 2012 by Sony Pictures
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