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Hope Springs (12A)
Cineworld, Haymarket
2nd September 2012


If you're under 20, this film really isn't for you. If you're under 30, you may enjoy parts of it, but you're still not the target audience. In a bid to chase the grey pound, Vanessa Taylor has crafted a tender and charming script about bringing sexy back to the lives of an sexagenarian couple, who have been married for just over three decades. It's not exciting or passionate and in places, does not make for comfortable viewing, but Hope Springs is well observed and gentle.

Largely set in a coastal town in Maine, which gives the film its title, Hope Springs unfolds after couple Kay and Arnold have got married, had children, who have long since flown the nest, and should be enjoying some quality time together, having already hit most of life's big milestones. Instead, they are leading separate lives, sharing only moments of cold routine and whilst Arnold has accepted the status quo, Kay has come to realise she is now desperately unhappy with how things have turned out. Rather than take the easy route of serving Arnold with divorce papers, Kay drags her reluctant and curmudgeonly other half off to a week of $4,000 intensive couple's therapy, with high expectations for a quick fix.

Acting legends Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones both shine as this floundering couple. Streep brings a touching vulnerability to Kay, together with the occasional streak of something more sassy. She may not be confident about much, being particularly timid in the bedroom, but it takes a certain determination to raid her her personal savings and organise the counselling sessions and also some spirit to walk into a bar in a strange town and start knocking back drinks. Streep makes Kay extremely likeable and relatable.

Jones plays his character as a traditional manly man, breadwinner and general grump. Whilst Arnold is capable of astute observation, he never quite seems to know when to stop, continuing into full blown rants that both irritate and embarrass. At one point, Kay accuses him of being a bully, but Arnold is perhaps even more scared of losing his marriage than Kay, with his love for his wife constantly evident in his expressions and little gestures.

The script's greatest strength is perhaps also its greatest weakness: it's too damn believable. As we watch Arnold and Kay's repetitive morning activities, we feel bored, just as Kay does. As the couple nervously try to reconnect by carrying out their counsellor's homework, we feel just as awkward watching them as they they do trying to complete each task. It is easy to emphasise with Kay's unhappiness, but it's not the uplifting experience the trailer suggets.

There are of course a few Hollywood touches - the bar scene, for example, where Streep confesses her woes to a female bartender who then hollers to rest of her clientele, asking those "who is here is not having sex" to raise their hands in a show of solidarity. It's a nice throwaway funny moment, but real life it isn't.

Talking of humour, Steve Carrell is a victim of his own success. In Hope Springs, he takes on a serious role and plays it well, with some soulful acting, but every time his character discusses Kay and Arnold's failing marriage, it feels odd that there is no side-splitting punchline. Dr Feld is thoughtful and reflective and if I hadn't seen Carrell on screen before, I would end on that note, but he is so well known for comedy, it is difficult to recognise his excellent portrayal of Dr Feld properly.

Although the film is billed as a romantic comedy, it doesn't feel light enough overall to label it is as such. It also lacked a lot of the cynical bite that director David Frankel showed in The Devil Wears Prada, which would have added more depth and conflict. As a moving story of an ordinary couple trying to work at their relationship, it succeeds, but you will need to be in the right mood - and age group - to appreciate it.

Hope Springs was released in the UK on 14th September 2012.

Nearest tube station: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly, Bakerloo)

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