3 Stars — Thought-provoking
Love can be lost one small reaction at a time. We start out with such hope. Our love is pervasive. We cannot imagine life without the other. And yet, over time, in moments that we hardly notice let alone remember, we can lose love and hope and settle into a slow-growing but persistent unhappiness. It is in those moments that we have a choice: Will we remain in lonely despair or do something to restore our love? If we choose the latter, then we have identified the source from which Hope Springs.
Directed by David Frankel (The Big Year, The Devil Wears Prada) and written by Vanessa Taylor, it is the superb acting of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as the couple who have fallen into the winter of their marriage that is the focus of the film. Kay and Arnold have been married for 31 years. They have lived the American dream with their two-story suburban house and their two grown kids. But during those years, they lost the love they once had for each other and are left with only empty routines and separate bedrooms.
Lonely and longing for more, Kay seeks help in her local Barnes & Noble bookstore. It is there that she comes across a book by Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell) promising “You Can Have the Marriage You Want!” Discovering that he offers a week-long intensive couple’s therapy experience at his office in Maine, Kay cashes in one of her own CDs and makes their reservation. It is this hopeful decision that takes her and Arnold on a difficult journey.
The therapy that Feld provides is focused primarily on sexual intimacy. This makes for both an uneasy couple and an uneasy audience. Full of humor and often invasive conversation, the couple is encouraged to disclose their fantasies and fears. With little guidance on healthy communication, the exercises that the therapist asks them to do create a vulnerability that reveals deeper issues.
We won’t spoil the tale but recognize that the struggles of Kay and Arnold are common and most couples who have been married for decades will recognize themselves in some of the conversations. It is in the little reactions and subsequent decisions in the privacy of a couple’s bedroom that have long-reaching effects not only on their marriage but also on each of them as a person. The necessity for authentic communication in all areas of marriage, but particularly in the area of sexual fulfillment, often requires a professional therapist to push beneath the defenses and pull out the scared and hopeful person inside.
It is clear that Hope Springs is written by people who have experienced both marriage and therapy, but it is also clear that it was not written by a therapist. As such, it is a humorous and hopeful tale exploring important issues of marital life, but provides little real guidance in actually solving them.
» If you are married, do you openly talk with your spouse about your sexual lives? Why or why not?
» The lack of information, though perhaps innocent, with which Kay and Arnold deal with their sexual problems is unfortunate. Have you sought the help of informative books and therapists to help you when needed? Why or why not?
» The final scene in which Kay and Arnold speak lovingly but truthfully in their recommitment vows provides a template for mature marital commitment. If you were writing new vows to describe your present commitment to your spouse, what would you say?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.