Breaking Noses and the Fourth Wall
When Tommy Lee Jones was interviewed on "Inside the Actors Studio" and they got to the point where James Lipton asks "those" questions, and he was asked "What word do you hate?" Jones curled his lip and said "Cute."
Fortunately, he's in Hope Springs, which, unfortunately, is the very definition of "cute," and manages to take some of the smirk out of it and put in the sting. The tale of a pair of "empty-nesters" trying to rekindle the pilot light of their marriage and claw out of their rut, it is merely saved by the stalwart efforts of Jones and Meryl Streep, who say more with their body language—his trudging walk and her nervous, frustrated sighs—than any blunt dialogue could convey. The script by Vanessa Taylor (she's written for "Everwood," "Alias," "Game of Thrones" and created the short-lived but well-regarded "Jack & Bobby"—quite the gamut, there) is long on touchy-feely aphorisms about metaphors, commitment and getting outside your comfort zone, dispensed by marriage counselor Steve Carell, who cuts out the dangerous aspects of his comedy potential and replaces it with wan smiles and scrutinizing eyes. David Frankel's direction (he directed Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, directed Marley and Me and last year's The Big Year) is safe, but sound (which makes you wonder why he's not directing for The Weinsteins, and he's much more adventurous when working in TV) and keeps things from getting too treacly.
The pressure, then, is on Streep and Jones to bring everything to the table and they're an interesting study in contrasts. She's all invention, imaginatively communicating with extraneous gestures of agitation and nuance, that burst out of her in spurts. Jones is instinctive, making the text real with superb line readings with a minimum of fuss—funny as Jones' character is the fussy one, complaining constantly, passively aggressive, and not offering much in the way of support. Both have issues and neither is entirely blameless—it takes two to make a bad marriage—but the sympathies throughout are with Streep's character, which is hammered home by the director and actress in moments of her satisfaction, by having her look directing at the camera for some sort of conspiratorial communal support from the audience ("Ladies...").
A little of that goes a long, long way,* and exposes that the film is geared to a female audience of a certain age and like-minded sympathies. Such pandering mars the film, taking it out of the situation, and, by acknowledging the intended audience, shatters the illusion of reality, making it a staged presentation. They might as well break into song, if this film about commitment isn't going to commit to anything.
Hope Springs is a blue-haired Rental.
* Too far actually, and in the days after watching the film, the feeling that it recalled for me in a previous film experience is Anthony Perkins smiling directly at the camera at the end of Psycho (There are other straight-on shots in the film—Marion driving, the patrolman, Arbogast—but they're usually looking past the audience, eyes unfocused, not directly at the audience).