Hope Springs is the kind of movie that is so realistic, affecting, and emotionally stirring that studios are afraid you won't go see it. So they concocted a trailer that makes it seem just like every other romantic comedy you can think of, slap a song in there that could play on an adult contemporary station as the "hip but accessible" single, and cross their fingers that people will get suckered into going. But the surprising part is, you're actually going to like it--even if it isn't what you're led to believe it is.
But first, a warning: This is a movie about 55-ish-year-olds doing stuff that isn't normally represented in the youth-cherishing culture of Hollywood. If seeing Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones roll in front of a fireplace makes you want to cover your eyes and whimper in the corner of the local cineplex, then stay home. But if Tommy Lee Jones getting felt up over his Dockers intrigues you, then by all means, get your wallet.
Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) have been married 31 years. They have adult kids and a lovely home straight out of a Restoration Hardware catalog. What they don't have is intimacy--Arnold sleeps in a separate room, and deftly turns down Kay's shy propositions that take all her courage to muster. His crankiness and her unhappiness are suffocating them, and finally Kay offers a more pronounced proposition: She is going to an intensive marriage therapy session. And Arnold, with the wisdom that comes from being married to someone for decades, understands that he better go with her. Or else.
Dr. Feld is their marriage counselor played by Steve Carell, which seems like another move by the studio higher-ups to trick you into thinking that at some point you'll see AARP members hitting each other with jousting sticks. But he's playing it straight here and in fact I don't think he even cracks one joke, which felt like the only unrealistic thing in the film. He talks in this over-controlled tone of voice, like a Therapy Robot, but he looks great in comfy sweaters and is easy to forget next to the torture you're watching the couple go through.
Essentially the only two kinds of scenes in the film are ones with Kay and Arnold twisting painfully in the wind while Steve Carell digs into their personal life, and scenes where they are trying to complete Dr. Feld's simple-but-confrontational "assignments." Just like real life, they experience success, failure, and everything in between. But there's no fluff in this movie to make you feel like they're going to make it no matter what. The script is so brutally honest that Kay and Arnold's union might just end up like 50% of marriages nowadays. But the two leads make it so you're rooting for them to come out winners, even if they have frustrating personality traits (because who doesn't). This movie won't be much of an escape from reality for audiences, but at least it's an escape from cliched, saccharine, fantasy-based nonsense.