Movie review: Hope Springs

From the August 9, 2012 edition

Meryl Streep is still the queen of summer blockbuster counter programming. She has sung and danced to Swedish pop songs. She has cooked with a French accent.

But as Kay, half of the stuck-in-a-rut couple at the heart of “Hope Springs,” Streep may have taken the label to a new level. In the middle of a superhero and superspy summer, 63-year-old Streep is talking about her character’s sex life.

After 31 years of marriage, Kay is finally speaking up about her unhappiness. It’s been years since she’s had sex with husband Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones).

Kay seeks help from therapist Dr. Feld (a surprisingly subdued Steve Carell), who holds a week of intensive therapy sessions with the couple at his office in Maine. Despite Arnold’s reluctance and frequent outbursts, the two answer questions about their sexual histories, likes and fantasies.

Fans of Dan Savage’s brand of blunt and open sex advice aren’t likely to be impressed with Dr. Feld, but the couple gets about as graphic as they can in a PG-13 movie. It’s all well-designed to produce some uncomfortable laughs, but you have to respect director David Frankel for not pushing his characters so far that they become romantic-comedy caricatures.

Jones’ take on Arnold’s inner conflict is a revelation. It’s easy to be OK with the routine but tough to try and completely reinvent a stagnant sex life, and Jones handles it all, even slapstick sex scenes in a movie theater, beautifully.