Streep shines in film that probes over-60 intimacy


We live in enlightened times.

Sure, there are still a few plonkers around but for the most part I reckon New Zealanders are arguably more tolerant and compassionate than ever.

Take the prime minister for example. In 2004 John Key voted against civil unions yet in 2012 he is supporting Labour MP Louisa Wall’s private members bill that will legalise gay marriage and adoption. In eight short years Mr Key has, on this issue anyway, gone from being a conservative stick-in-the-mud to a progressive promoter of a more inclusive society.

Like I said, we live in enlightened times.

Another example is the movie Hope Springs (M).

Starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, it’s what people in the movie business call a dramedy. In other words, it’s a drama with funny bits.

Streep and Jones play Kay and Arnold Soames, a couple heading towards retirement whose kids have flown the nest. Kay and Arnold have been together for 31 years and over time have unwittingly settled into a routine that brings little joy to either of them.

They sleep in separate bedrooms, haven’t been intimate in years and rarely even touch. Desperate to bring a spark back to their marriage, Kay signs them up for an intensive week-long couple’s course led by Steve Carell’s Dr Bernie Feld in the picturesque town of Great Hope Springs, Maine.

Arnold is appalled at the prospect but begrudgingly joins Kay on her quest and before long is sitting on a couch with Dr Feld asking him questions about their sex life. Hope Springs sounds like a rom-com for retirees but it’s actually a lot more interesting than that.

It’s the first time I remember seeing a mainstream Hollywood film about people in their 60s and sex. Now for some that’ll be a good reason not to see it but I found it refreshing, thought-provoking and, yes, enlightened.

As you’d expect from Streep and Jones, the acting is excellent. It’s the first time I’ve seen Streep play someone as timid as Kay and, to be honest, it took a bit of getting used to. Jones, on the other hand, is typecast as a grumpy tough nut. Together they are superb; their mix of devotion, frustration, longing, disappointment and love is spot on and bound to remind you of someone you know. Carell is also perfect as Dr Feld.

Top marks also for the dialogue that feels lifted directly from a million couples’ counselling sessions. For a film with such a happy title, Hope Springs is full of sad moments but that is also what lends it unexpected gravitas and credibility.

On the other side of the ledger, I couldn’t help feeling Hope Springs could have gone further in exploring sex after 60 and the reasons why so many loving relationships turn into dead-end streets. Part of me felt it was a missed opportunity to have done something really bold. The pace also plods in parts, there are some woefully heavy-handed musical selections and it would have benefited from being 15 minutes shorter.

It’s worth noting that while most of the people who buy tickets for Hope Springs are likely to be over 50, the film will find fans with younger people prepared to give it a go. Personally, I think there is stuff in it that anyone in a long-term relationship will find useful. After all, forewarned is forearmed.

NB: The screening I attended featured what appeared to be a distractingly dirty print. State Cinema management said it was more likely to have been a lens issue and promised to get on to it. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the problem will have been sorted.

Bottom line: Much better than its trailer suggests.