Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hope Springs [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (L)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Hope Springs (directed by David Frankel, written by Vanessa Taylor) is a movie that, I admit, I did not go enthusiastically to see.  To be sure given the actors involved, notably Meryl Streep and Steve Carrell, but also Tommy Lee Jones (who IMHO was cast _perfectly_ for his role), I fully suspected that the film would be excellent.  But like many others, I wasn't sure I really wanted to sit through a film exploring the marriage (and yes, sex life) of an older couple, much less pay for it.  However, having done so, I do think that the film is worth a view.  After all, "we're not 20 forever," and we are generally living longer.  It behooves us to seek (and find) happiness in our lives and in our relationships (with each other, and I would add, with our God) when we find ourselves in our late-40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and into our 80s and perhaps even beyond.  Otherwise, we'd find ourselves facing a _long_ period of progressive decline and increasing unhappiness.

The film begins with a Nebraska couple, Arnold (played by Tommy Lee Jones) and Kay (played by Meryl Streep) "having the kids over" for dinner (Kay made "prime rib") to celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary.  It's "an odd year," so the the sensible pair felt no need to celebrate it in a bigger way.  When one of their daughters asks them what they got each other for this "not particularly important" anniversary, they answer "a new cable TV package."  They assure their kids and their spouses "it has a lot of channels..."  The younger generation is unconvinced, but seem to say to themselves heck "that's ma' and dad, perhaps when we're 'old' we'd do the same."  After the kids leave, we see what the "new cable package" actually means for Arnold and Kay:  While Kay washes the dishes, Arnold falls asleep in his chair watching a a program "about improving his golf swing."  Sigh ...

A few days later, Kay, who works in a clothing store in town, talks to her co-worker Eileen (played by Jean Smart) about the rather depressing / no longer going anywhere / "static" apparently "just waiting to die" state of her marriage.  As a result of the conversation, she decides to go to a book store afterwards, where she finds a book by "relationship guru" Dr. Feld (played by Steve Carrell) who promises older couples like Kay and Arnold that they _don't_ "have to settle," that they _can_ continue to have a marriage that excites them and fulfills them as they grow old(er) together.  Kay looks up Dr. Feld's website on the internet and is immediately impressed.  This is what she wants a marriage that continues to excite her even after 37 years, rather than resigning herself to the same routine, day-after-day, until mercifully through "death do they part."

Arnold, of course, _has resigned himself_ to the day-to-day routine -- He gets up each morning, showers, dresses for work, eats the breakfast that Kay's prepared for him each day, kisses her (on the cheek), goes to work (apparently for some insurance company), comes home from work, eats the dinner that Kay's prepared for them, and then crashes in front of the TV-set to watch "the Golf Channel" to get some tips about "improving his game" (which it appears he doesn't play much anymore anyway).  Some years back he had a back problem and then "some sleep apnia" (he snores).  As a result, he's been sleeping in the guest room (for years) anyway.  It's not exactly an exciting life, but Arnold's resigned to it and generally happy with it, and doesn't understand why Kay would want to "shake things up." (Of course, he's not the one getting up to cook his breakfast and only getting a perfunctory kiss on the cheek and perhaps a mumbled "'love ya" afterwards as he "rushes" then to work...).

Fortunately, Arnold does have a friend at work, Vince (played by Brett Rice), who is able to "hear" for Arnold what he himself would have otherwise missed.  When Arnold complains to him that Kay "had this crazy idea" of going out to Maine for a week to take an intensive seminar by this Dr. Feld, it is Vince who convinces him to go, telling him that if had listened to his wife when she had wanted to do something similar, he wouldn't be going home "to nothing" these days.  (Indeed, one of very _nice_ aspects of this film is the attention given to the friends of both Arnold and Kay (Eileen and Vince) in the story.  Their roles are not large but important).  So Arnold grudgingly goes with Kay to Dr. Feld's "intensive couples' seminar."  And much, of course ensues ...

Here I want to say that the performances of all three of the princpal actors Streep, Carrell and Jones were all excellent.  I've come to expect this (for different reasons) from both Streep (heck she's a "living legend") and Carrell (he really seems to be on a mission use film and his career to make people, common, regular people, happier ... honestly look at Carell's career and the roles that he's taken.  He's been _repeatedly_ willing to take the role of "the schmuck" for the sake of bringing greater happiness to others.  And someone _like me_ "in my line of work" simply has to admire and _applaud_ that).  The performance of Tommy Lee Jones was more of a surprise to me.  To some extent he played  the same role that he always plays -- of a "crotchety older man."  However, he plays it absolutely perfectly here and with enough depth / surprising nuance that one gets to better understand his character and also understand how/why a character like his _could change_.

So I want to say that this film is worth seeing.  It is not exactly a slick/glamourous movie.  After all, it's about a supremely average and aging "white collar" couple from suburban (Omaha?) Nebraska trying to find happiness and fulfillment in their lives after being together for 37 years in marriage.  But I do think that ANYBODY who's "been there," is approaching "there,"_is_ "there," would appreciate the film.

Finally, I would remind readers here that a surprising number of the stories that we find in the Bible are about "older people" given a new lease of life.  Abraham was called by God when he was 75 (!!).  Sarah (Abraham's wife) became a mother (became surprisingly _generative/creative_) at 90 (!!).  Moses only saw the "burning bush" when he was 80 (!!).  In each case, arguably their lives ONLY BEGAN THEN.  Their many decades of life before were actually just prologue.

In our youth obsessed time, the Good News of this may be difficult to fully appreciate or fathom.  But it does appear that the God of the Biblical Scriptures wants us to be happy and find purpose/fulfillment.  There are certainly times in our lives where we may (like Abraham/Sarah, Moses/Israelites) find ourselves "sterile" and/or "wandering through the desert" for long periods of time.  But we are told that we can find ourselves, fulfillment and even God at 75, 80, 90 or 100.  This is something to remember when we find ourselves perhaps wondering if "our lives are over" and/or "our best years are behind us."

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