August 10, 2012
On the Big Board
||I thought this was just going to be pandering to retirees. It's much more sincere than that. Like The Sessions, it gradually works through the intimacy issue.
Meryl Streep follows up a “relatively” successful 2011 by going back to basics with Hope Springs, a romantic comedy also starring Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. These days, it’s common for an actress to “break out” via rom-com, moving on to more challenging roles once opportunity has made you its friend. At that point, conventional wisdom (and common cynicism) suggests you leave those kind of lightweight roles for when your career needs a shot in the arm.
In other words, the day you see Meg Ryan starring in You’ve Got Mail II, you can be sure her phone hasn’t rung in a long time. So, what in the name of Margaret Thatcher is Meryl Streep doing? At 62-years-old, fresh off the best year of her life, she could do something dignified like a musical with Pierce Brosnan, and people would still say it was great. So why do this?
Well, according to Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Similarly, sometimes funny is just funny. According to the official plot synopsis for Hope Springs, it involves a middle aged couple who after 30 years of devoted marriage, visit an eccentric marriage counselor in an idyllic setting, hoping to rekindle their marriage and fall in love again. Wow, that sounds nice. But allow me to improve on that. Let’s pretend I am the president of Humongous Pictures, you come into my office waving a screenplay and say the following:
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones go to Steve Carrell for marriage counseling. All parties have agreed in principle.
Boom. That’s it. I produce a blank check and a $6,000 fountain pen before leaping over the desk to kiss you. Just think about it for a moment - Meryl Streep, matronly and romantic as ever. Tommy Lee Jones, always the meticulous ramrod, muttering about hard-target searches and rules of engagement. They’re married, they love each other, but they’re an odd couple who’s lost their spark. So to save their marriage, they retreat to the rustic town of Great Hope Springs...
(Get it? Hope Springs? Eternal? Heart? Get it?)
...where Steve Carell walks them through the process of falling in love again, presumably as he trips over things, eats really spicy foods and then has comically exaggerated reactions to them. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I call Comedy Gold. And might I point out that were most other actresses, at this point in their career, to star in a romantic comedy, they would no doubt be playing someone’s overbearing mother in law. But here, Meryl Streep is the lead. It’s like Space Cowboys, or The Bucket List, but this time the ladies are invited, too.
Let’s not harbor illusions about this - Hope Springs is probably going to be closer to maudlin and predictable than edgy and groundbreaking. But that’s the point, most likely. People will want to see Meryl Streep being matronly and romantic opposite Tommy Lee Jones being inflexible-yet-charming, while Steve Carell gets hit over the head and falls down the stairs. Meanwhile, we all learn a valuable lesson about love, maturity and grace. I’m already hugging myself. (Bruce Hall/BOP)