The ads make “Hope Springs” look like another of those nice Nancy Meyers-style “women’s pictures” (as they used to call these kinds of movies) like “It’s Complicated” or “Something’s Got to Give,” the kind of movie you can take your mother to and not feel embarrassed.
It’s got Meryl Streep in it, after all. That sounds like a safe bet, right?
Hmm, well…”Hope Springs” has some of those attributes, but you might want to think twice about taking mom.
Most of “Hope Springs” is very tame touchy-feely stuff, not far from an average made-for-Lifetime TV movie. Streep plays a housewife whose marriage has become routine and sexless; she dares her complacent husband (Tommy Lee Jones) to join her in a weeklong intensive marriage counseling session in Maine.
The counselor is played by Steve Carell, in a curious piece of casting. The therapist is neutral, and not especially funny, so I can only guess that Carell was really, really interested in making a movie with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.
So Streep is twittery and timid, Jones is grouchy and reluctant, and of course they make some progress during their week.
The surprising part is that the movie gets touchy-feely in a different way. Having established that this marriage is slowing down in the sex department, the therapist assigns a few explicit exercises for the couple.
Which are dutifully played out, not in a way that seriously threatens the all-important PG-13 rating, mind you, but that might cause more than a little blushing on the part of unsuspecting audience members.
This is the awkward element of the movie, yet it’s also the only worthwhile aspect of it: the acknowledgment that people over 60 can and should have sex lives, and that re-starting those sex lives might involve a certain amount of fumbling around.
Director David Frankel (who did “The Devil Wears Prada” with Streep) doesn’t have much talent for this, but you sense the actors just going for it, which helps a little.
Streep finds a few nifty moments in the mix, and while Jones’s performance is familiar, it’s something he’s very good at (he’s got that way of emphasizing certain words that makes even bad dialogue kick into life). Actors are supposed to be willing to look foolish, and these two are definitely up for it.
I wish the movie itself were worthy of their efforts. Maybe the sitcom style was intentional: This movie is trying something radical, so it couches itself in the conventional. If that means it sneaks up on people and shakes them up a little, maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are a long-married couple whose dormant sex life gets a boost during a weeklong therapy seminar. The movie is standard-issue stuff in every way except one: the acknowledgement (sometimes awkward) that people over 60 have sex lives and that this might involve a certain amount of fumbling, enough of which is put on screen to make unsuspecting audience members blush.
Rated: PG-13, for language, subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seven Gables, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.