obsession with love of romance novels, I don’t care for most romantic movies. I don’t think I’ve voluntarily watched a romantic comedy since college, and that was when I was getting paid to review them.
It seems that every romantic comedy that comes out is some unrealistic piece of trash, the same mind-numbingly predictable plot occasionally spiced up with fun stuff like glorifying infidelity.
The characters are typically little more than caricatures, people that we only want to see together because they are pretty people and the movie tells us that we want them to get together. Good romantic movies are rare indeed.
That’s why I was so surprised that I wanted to see “Hope Springs.” It’s definitely not my usual fare, but with a cast including Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell, I really couldn’t pass it up.
Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for 31 years. They’ve fallen into a comfortable routine of keeping each other emotionally at arm’s length, but Kay wants more even as Arnold resists. In desperation, Kay signs them up for an intensive week-long couple’s therapy session in Maine, hoping to rekindle the spark in their marriage.
So often when we see a romantic comedy, we see the beginning of a relationship, from boy-meets-girl to happily-ever-after. “Hope Springs” is about what happens after that “happily ever after,” showing us a couple that has been together for so long that they’ve forgotten how to have a marriage.
After 31 years, Kay and Arnold don’t share a bedroom anymore. They rarely touch each other, except for the perfunctory kiss on the cheek Arnold gives Kay every morning before he leaves for work. There’s a painful awkwardness between them when they try to talk about intimate, meaningful things; Kay is so timid and Arnold seems terrified of anything that forces him to feel more. Each has pushed away the other so many times in various ways that the fear of being rejected yet again runs through every encounter when they get out of their comfort zones.
Though Steve Carell is billed up there, it’s really Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones that carry this movie. They do such a great job as Kay and Arnold, who over the years have become little more than roommates. Streep is very sweet as Kay, who yearns for more from her marriage but, in the beginning, isn’t quite sure how to go about it. There’s a kind of innocence about her that you wouldn’t expect so much from a long-married woman with two children, but it’s very believable.
Jones is equally fantastic as Arnold, who’s kind of wrapped himself up in a gruff cocoon, keeping everybody else at arm’s length. Any time something strays too close to his heart, he shuts it down with grumbling complaints, sarcasm, or straight-up yelling.
There aren’t any grand gestures in this movie, not like a proposal in the middle of a baseball game or a run to the airport to catch someone before they get in a plane (a gesture that particularly now strains the bounds of credulity). It’s just two people fumbling their way back around to really trusting each other, really talking to each other, really displaying their love for each other. It feels real, and the situations you see Kay and Arnold in are so common that you find yourself rooting for those two crazy kids to make it.
“Hope Springs” shows us that no matter how long you’ve known another person, no matter how long you’ve been married to another person, a true, loving relationship can still be a gamble, a risk, a leap of faith. Love is not about the rush or the grand gestures; it’s about the little things we do for and to each other every single day that can build walls between us or tear them down. How so much not-speaking can fill up chasms between us until all the unsaid things do more to drive a person away than one hurtful word ever could.
And how, while getting there may be scary and painful (VERY painful), the relationship you have without the walls is even better than before.