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Hope Springs Review: Another Indictment Against the Bullsh*t Happily Ever After Myth

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | August 10, 2012 | Comments ()


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Getting into a relationship is easy; sustaining it over the course of years, or even decades, is the difficult part. Consider that most romantic comedies are about bringing two people together. They meet; they fall in love; there's a conflict; they resolve it; and they live happily ever after. They're simple. A screenwriter sets up obstacles and knocks them over. If you're lucky, there's a brief swatch or two of relatable material in an entire film.

However, it doesn't take a lot of intellectual acrobatics to know that the "happily ever after" is bullsh*t. Hell, those "happily ever after" relationships are the most likely to fail (see, e.g., what happened to Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court): There's too much expectation borne out of the intensity of those courtships. You can't live up to that.

Indeed, the first few years of a relationship? Those are a breeze. You're madly in love, everyone wants to have sex all the time, you prioritize romantic affection over responsibility, and there's always something ahead to look forward to: A wedding; a new house; a new job; and children. It's when the crystallization wears off and things settle in that a relationship begins to get difficult: You find a groove, and then you maintain it until there's a rut. For the first time in your relationship, the person you are with may decline to have sex; that rejection mounts; pride takes over; suddenly, you're afraid to make a move on the person you know better than any other in the world because you don't want to risk rejection. Then you turn your partner down just to gain hand; and before you know it, it's been four years, and not only have you not had sex, but you've stopped expressing even the subtlest of affections toward one another. Hey! But you've finally got "hand" in your broken goddamn marriage.

That's your happily ever after, right there. It's also where Hope Springs picks up, 31 years after vows were exchanged. Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) no longer sleep in the same bed. They've been going through the same motions for years, seemingly riding it out until their graves rise up and swallow them. But before it happens, Kay suddenly realizes that her marriage is no longer working, and as much as she loves her husband, she can't go another day feeling more alone with him than without him. She coerces Arnold into couples counseling with Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) in Maine, and they spend most of the rest of the film working through their intimacy issues in a therapist's office, save for a few moments for the trailer spent outside in the quaint burg.

Hope Springs isn't really a movie you like or dislike; it's more of a movie that speaks to you in some way, or it doesn't. It's not a romantic comedy as much as it is watching two famous people playing very real characters working through very real problems that I suspect a lot of people who have been married for decades can relate to. It's not a greatly entertaining or funny movie, either, but there's an immense amount of honesty in the performances, and David Frankel thankfully spares us from too many romantic contrivances and pratfalls, opting instead for a low-key film rooted in character. These are two people who are not separated by long-distance, by divergent career paths, or existing relationships with other people that they can't get out of. They're people who love each other who are separated by their inability to talk to one another.

It's not an easy problem to dramatize, but that's what Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are for, and they do a splendid job of depicting an emotionally unavailable husband and a timid wife afraid to speak her mind. Steve Carell, soulful as ever in his dramatic roles, does a brilliant job, too, of facilitating their performances.

Hope Springs is a subdued, but thoughtful film, brave for its refreshingly candid and insightful take on a stalled marriage that's beyond the help of grand romantic gestures. Romantic gestures may get you to the "happily ever after," but it takes sustained effort and communication to maintain it. Hope Springs does an admirable job of guiding us through the process.



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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Sara_Tonin00

    Really? The commercials make it seem like old married person rom com. And though I love the Meryl, her rom-com performances grate on me. Too much sparkly eye and thrown-back-head laughter. It's deliberately charming, which has the opposite effect for me.

  • the other courtney

    My mother had this to say about the movie: "Why is it always about sex? It's not a magical cure. Prostitues have sex all the time, do they look happy to you?"
    I honestly don't have a retort for that one.

  • DeistBrawler

    I've had no interest whatsoever in seeing this movie for two main reasons.
    A) I haven't had a relationship last younger than a year so I'm certainly not in the target market.
    B) I don't want to watch my parents regain their sexy time.

  • cinekat

    I will watch either of these actors do anything. Carell's the cherry on top.

  • Skyler Durden

    I don't know if I can endure this one. My husband/partner of 15 years just moved out, mostly because I did not want to resign myself to the type of sexless marriage portrayed in this movie. Between this and Take This Waltz, there is too much truth flying around right now for me to take.

  • apsutter

    Take This Waltz wrecked me! I had no expectations going in and the end of it just crushed me. Blue Valentine was more soul crushing though.

  • Cynic

    Actually, it is a pretty terrible film. Both characters are one note. It shifts between goofy comedy and mawkish drama without any warning. The soundtrack announces exactly how you are to feel no fewer than ten times. And the take home message is...(SPOILER)...as long as the wife feels sexually attractive, everything will be okay.

  • mswas

    "David Frankel thankfully spares us from too many romantic contrivances and pratfalls..."

    Huzzah! After Mamma Mia, you never know.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    It's a good idea to have stuff in common with your significant other, and be friends first. After all the boning is done it really helps. And you still will probably want to bone that person who is your best friend. Call me a silly romantic but it works.

  • $27019454

    So...do they live happily ever after?

    Because last week I loathed my husband. I put a refrigerator magnet (a big one in the shape of a water heater) over his face on the cutesy photo we keep on the fridge. I used another photo of him surfing as a coaster for a very condensation-y vodka/tonic in a subliminal "fuck you, you are nothing but a coaster to me" move. And this week I love him like ice cream loves cake and just as messy. It's been nearly 20 years and I'm exhausted but, but I can't see that I'll get bored anytime soon. I need to know how this is gonna turn out.

  • the other courtney

    This made my day. The passive-aggressive magnet relocation technique is one I employ often. That and deleting that Tony Kornheiser sports show from the TiVo cue.

  • e jerry powell

    I just like that it's a movie for grown-ups.

  • spljt

    I don't know about the casting on this. I mean, sure Streep and Jones are fantastic actors who can bring strength and vulnerability at the same time to their characters. But my Mr. and I have been married 28 years and we are over a decade younger than those two actors. From the trailers, it looks like Kay and Arnold have never had anything but missionary position sex, and that happened a long time before the movie began. Is this set 30 years in the past or something? The actors seem too old and the dilemma seems too naive for a modern couple who've been together for that long. My other friends of 25-year-of-marriage and 26-years-of-coupledom have no trouble with keeping it passionate. Maybe we're just the outliers.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    It gets a bit difficult if one partner doesn't feel so good about him/herself, can't seem to get out of the rut, won't accept proffered help, and just keeps wallowing. Or so I've heard.

  • ,

    Wow, who votes this down?

    Mrs. , and I just passed our 30th anniversary. It turns out that somehow, through extraordinary happenstance, I married my best friend. I've never been more comfortable and relaxed with anyone, and let me tell you, that beats hell out of most anything else. Even the occasional fucking, which is still pretty good (perhaps for being somewhat rare). I'm scheduled for a session in about 18 hours, in fact, at Mrs. ,'s suggestion.

    You kids don't know what you're missing.

    Also, I'd watch Tommy Lee read the fucking phone book.

  • Anna von Beav

    Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but I downvoted it because of the superiority.

    Sometimes shit just doesn't work out. It doesn't make people for whom it does better than the rest. It just makes you luckier.

  • ,

    You're allowed. Only you.

  • BWeaves

    This is the sort of movie my retired parents will see, because they go to the movies every 2 days.

    Actually, my mom is pretty funny. She goes to movies she has no idea about, and then bitches to me on the phone about it.

    Example:

    Mom: I dragged your Dad to see "The Piano" because I told him it was a western. It wasn't a western. It was a DIRTY MOVIE.

    Me: Mom, I don't want to hear you say tattoo and foreskin in the same sentence ever again.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I'm afraid to see this movie. I'm afraid that the story & the situation will be too familiar, and I'm too young for that.

  • Pookie

    Dustin this might be your best review yet. You hit the nail on the head explaining the dynamics of a relationship. I see the things you’ve said in my own marriage, the head games when it comes to sex, and the sleeping in different rooms. One person always trying to get the upper hand, I know that all too well. I’m passive-aggressive, so you can just about guess what kinds of games are going on in my head. My wife and I never went to counseling, but I do know that we take time out to talk to each other, she hears what I have to say and I hear what she has to say, and it works. I’m not saying that our marriage is perfect, but we’ve learned how to stop playing head games with each other and that has been the biggest change in our marriage. Just the other day we were talking about where are we going to retire to, and let me tell something, that’s a good feeling.

  • ManBearPig

    But it´s this Jungian or Freudian?
    I´m guessing Jungian, because of the lack of ....COCK!
    "Downvote " me pls....I´m ashamed.

  • bimboden

    Oh, how this pleases me... Turns out it's everything I'd hoped it would be. Now if only I could get my boyfriend to commit to watching "a movie for old people", as he puts it. blerg

  • Stellamaris2012

    I wish the trailers did a better job of portraying this as anything other than a rom-com for the marrieds. I would never have thought this could be a good movie if not for this review...

  • Sara_Tonin00

    (ok, I just commented without reading your comment, but I said the same thing)

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