Sunday, 16 September 2012

Hope Springs

Some films deal with deep issues in ways that don't help. Humour is often an effective device to deploy when dealing with things that are hard to be open about. This film is a gift. Not only does it treat a very common and serious subject with respect and reality, it delivers its treatment with great and subtle humour - wonderfully aided by top class acting. This film is excellent - go and see it now.

Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) and Kay (Meryl Streep) have been married for 31 years. Their relationship used to be warm and, to a degree, fulfilling. In recent years, the fizz has gone and for the past five years there has been very little physical contact of any sort - and certainly not anything intimate! Kay decides she wants to try to rescue the relationship and recover the fizz. Going to the bookstore she buys a book by a therapist who helps couples restore some of the lost magic. So, inspired by the writings of Dr Feld, she signs herself and Arnold up for a week's intensive therapy.

Dr Feld is played by Steve Carell and I have to say he is brilliant - the first time he has delivered a role that doesn't make me cringe repeatedly. I won't say any more about the 'therapy' sessions or how the story develops or concludes, but it explores the problems of talking about sexual desire, fantasy and physical intimacy in a way that is not only convincing and sensitive, but which also draws you in and encourages you to develop a tangible sympathy for Arnold and Kay. This is helped by very strong performances from the three main characters - particularly Streep. Confusingly for me, having played the 'Iron Lady' she spends a lot of the movie looking just like Margaret Thatcher - which in some scenes is most inappropriate!

The film is split between Omaha Nebraska and a small coastal town in Maine. These two contrasting locations set up a helpful metaphor for the processes that are going on in each place. The folk in Maine are used to having couples visiting Dr Feld's clinic and the local businesses cater for the specific needs of this type of clientele.

This film will not excite younger viewers. However, those of us who inhabit middle-age - particularly those who are also 'empty nesters' - will warm to the themes that can resonate with some couples as they drift towards retirement. Kay refused to let ageing bring the end of intimacy - she took action to try and recover it. The road she set out on was not without its pain and discomfort - are any couples truly that reticent and ignorant when it comes to discussing the sexual side of their relationship? Perhaps so, as Streep and Jones deliver a masterclass in believable angst.

I think that this is a bold and courageous film that tackles a difficult subject with grace and style. It delivers strong acting performances and some laughs along the way. I'm going to stick my neck out here and award it 8.5/10 - almost a 9! Go and see it - or buy some tickets for your 'old folks' as a treat.

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