THE ‘OL GREY MERYL, SHE’S STILL WHAT SHE USED TO BE
Review by Paul Preston
First things first. Whether it’s a piece of lightweight fluff like “Hope Springs” or a deep, meditative movie like “Doubt”, this is a notice to all the world. If you are alive while Meryl Streep is performing, you MUST GO AND SEE WHAT SHE’S DOING. She is a living legend. She is perhaps the greatest actress of all time, no hyperbole here. So if you’re sharing the planet with her and it doesn’t take much to see what she’s doing, like going down to the theater and buying a ticket, check it out. If I had the chance to see Olivier on stage or watch Lenny Bruce in a stand-up club, I’d have done it. This isn’t much different. Go see her.
So, is the movie any good?
After thirty-one years of marriage, Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep’s Arnold and Kay find themselves in a marriage of routine, rather than one of spark and romance. They go to Hope Springs, ME, to a retreat run by a lauded therapist (Steve Carell), to try and work things out. I’m in L.A., anyone married for thirty-one years is rare, so I’m already excited by seeing something new.
Streep, in this film, plays a timid, sexless housewife, disappointed with the state of her marriage. At first, this shocked us. We’re used to seeing her as “The Iron Lady”, or that shrew from “The Devil Wears Prada”. I’m here to say she plays dowdy just as convincingly as she plays strong. She can play anything, and play it authentically. She’s amazing.
Tommy Lee Jones has made a career out of being a loudmouth, barking orders in “The Fugitive”, “Men in Black” and “The Client”, but he’s been fantastic at transitioning into quiet, almost sad roles in his late career, if you think of “No Country for Old Men”, “The Company Men” and here he captures that really well. His character Arnold is against all the changes Carell’s therapist is trying to make in his marriage, but underneath any bluster, you can see real pain and even fear. He plays it all well.
And Carell is good, but it’s really facilitating character. Nothing showy here, he just kinda makes the most of his goofy grin. But it is shaggy-haired Carell, which is good, reminds you of “Little Miss Sunshine”. Hair-cut-too-short-Steve Carell usually means you’re gonna see “Get Smart”. Not good.
Most of the film works, although it does get a little bogged down, plot-wise, towards the end. As if the filmmakers said, “Well, we better wrap this up” and it stumbles a bit towards the finish line. And prepare for old people sex. Meryl moaning, crotch shots of Tommy Lee Jones. Just don’t say I didn’t prepare you. Director David Frankel does handle all the awkwardness with a steady, adult hand. You know your leads are old when 49-year old Elisabeth Shue is the hot, young bartender (and she is, in fact, most hot. Praise the gods!). Frankel puts a bunch of pop songs in the film, not all of them work, or are poorly placed. If you hear the song too clearly, perhaps it isn’t helping the drama, it’s becoming it. And you will want to go to Maine after this film. Dang place just looks aDORable!
In the end, Frankel is serviceable, but not so-much a stand-out, having directed the easy-to-swallow “Marley & Me” and “The Devil Wears Prada”. But wouldn’t you like to see Streep with a GREAT director again? It’s been a while. But rather than work with someone to make a perfectly likeable film, I’d like to see her pair with Alexander Payne or Michael Mann and see what happens.
But overall, this film is enjoyable due to the leads playing it genuine. They don’t play it funny, they don’t play it dramatic, they play it real and end up being both those things successfully.
Directed by: David Frankel
Release Date: August 8, 2012
Run Time: 100 Minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures