Feminism is redefined in “Hope Springs,” a tale of two 60-somethings locked in a marriage gone stale and opting for a week of intensive marriage counselling in a picturesque Maine town.
Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for 31 years and it’s obvious from the couple’s nonconfrontational monosyllabic exchanges that she’s been cooking his meals and folding his laundry for eternity, while he has parked himself in front of ESPN’s Golf Network for a century and a half.
Wait, don’t go away, because this is where the feminism part comes in: Kay is OK with that. As the story unfolds, you see it’s not the predicament of frying two rashers of bacon and a sunny-side up for her husband every single morning till kingdom come (he’s a full-on American breakfast kinda guy); it’s the fact that he no longer “touches” her sexually that bothers her so much. Um, for real, Kay?
The answer seems to be a resounding yes. “Hope Springs” is a pure, undiluted rom-com for seniors, and that’s not something you see often. Kay and Arnold have a combined age of over 120 but they’re not besieged by the usual older-couple problems of money, sickness and family drama. They’ve got a niiice white house in the suburbs with a beautiful front lawn. He’s a tax consultant, home every night for dinner. She works alongside a girlfriend in a local boutique.
Kay is in the privileged but ambivalent position of being perfectly comfortable but achingly dissatisfied and wants to remedy that, quite simply because she longs to have sex with her husband. Cue their trip for a week of intensive marriage-guidance counseling with Dr. Feld (Steve Carell).
“I don’t want anyone else; I just want you,” she tells Arnold at one point, and the brutal honesty of her words — coming from a woman with two adult children — is, well, it’s wrenching is what it is. Kay’s frank acknowledgement of her sexual desires, well past the age when society deems it attractive for a woman to even have any, is just as feminist as any angry bra-burning session.
If anyone could pull this off with grace and acumen, it would have to be Streep. In my mind, she’s the greatest sport a movie industry could hope for, willing to play middle-aged vulnerability with varying degrees of humility, wisdom and resignation — and she’s been doing it for over 20 years. Just as Arnold would cease to function as a human being without Kay around, it’s hard to envision Hollywood without Streep’s anchoring presence. She’s to American cinema what the Gettysburg Address is to the Civil War.
On the other side of the bed, so to speak, Jones is a jewel of an actor who has elevated gruff-and-silent into an art form. Watch him gripe about the high prices in the little Maine town (“Mark my words, in these kind of places you won’t get breakfast for under $10!”) and you’ll never want to get married. Or get old. Arnold is so crusty it’s a wonder the townspeople don’t mistake him for a lobster, but then he takes you by surprise on occasion — the man knows how to make a lady smile, and he’s ready to put in the effort. Better late than never, but he still takes his sweet time about it.