Not to put too fine a point on it, but by way of a marketing angle or a warning sticker, the primary theme of Hope Springs is this: geezer sex. How to get it. How to get back to it. How to find the spring and zing in a marriage gone beyond the silver-anniversary gleam. In one corner of the plot’s unsettled married folks, we have Omaha couple the Soames. Wife Kay (the predictably amazing Meryl Streep) is discontent with her taciturn and romantically frigid husband (the predictably amazing Tommy Lee Jones), so she seeks out a marriage repair guru from Maine (Steve Carell, shy of amazing or well-cast), to try and put the love package back together again via an intensive couples counseling encounter in a lobster town.
If that narrative summary sounds potentially dull, it is at times, as the screenplay falls into slack periods or is glazed over by lame pop songs and cinematic air fresheners of sentimentality. We do root for this couple, who seem to have a pilot light of deep love beneath the years of practiced apathy, and we also fear for the marriage’s survival but suspect that the happy-ending machine will kick in. But more than any particular compelling social or emotional themes, this rather slender excuse for a feature film is primarily date-night material — take the wife or husband! It’s also a prime example of what happens when the acting is much stronger than the script.
Streep once again proves stunning in a vulnerable, self-questioning role quite the opposite of her work as Margaret Thatcher or the fire-breathing fashion mag boss in The Devil Wears Prada (also directed by David Frankel). For his part, Jones plays up his consonant-chewing, minimalist machismo, while also playing bravely against it in a scenario about breaking through the hardened exterior and rediscovering the love thing beneath. Poor Carell is out of his element, and out of character, as an actor we know for his comic chops, here stuck in a straitjacket. We keep waiting for him to bust loose with a punch line, but no such luck.
As for geezer sex? Plot-spoiler rules of conduct prevent divulgence, but suffice it to say the rules of feel-good conduct are in check here.