Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones salvage this tale of marital woe

12A | ***

HOPE PRINGS can be viewed as an inverted romantic comedy. Instead of a young couple haplessly trying to get it together, we have a middle-aged one haplessly trying not to break up. Like your average rom-com, schmaltz levels are high, but three winning performances from Steve Carell, Meryl Streep (pictured right) and Tommy Lee Jones ensure that it’s a classier brand of schmaltz than your average Jennifer Aniston toe-curler.

Kay and Arnold Soames are a Midwestern couple in their early 60s. Their marriage is stale and their lives are monotonous. They sleep in separate beds, and every morning Kay makes sure breakfast is on the table before Arnold goes off to work as a partner in an accounting firm.

Unhappy with the lack of sex and concerned by what it might indicate about their marriage, Kay books a week of intensive couples therapy on the East coast with renowned therapist Bernard Feld (Steve Carell).

Steve Carell nails the earnest, quietly probing therapist in what is an unusually restrained role for him. Streep is also excellent as the insecure housewife, tentatively encouraging her husband to be more open. But it is the obstructive and repressed Jones who really brightens things up. Initially difficult in the sessions, his therapeutic progress is often amusing and sometimes moving.

Alas, David Franken’s directorial performance doesn’t live up to that of his cast. Moments of genuine poignancy are too often cheapened by an unwieldy soundtrack full of songs that signpost the emotional development of the characters.

To name a few, we have Lenny Kravitz’ It ain’t over till its over, Al Green’s Let’s stay together and Why by Annie Lennox, which contains the lyric “How many times do I have to try to tell you, that I'm sorry for the things I've done”. Given that Streep and Jones are two of the best actors going, it's strange that Franken feels the need to provide an audio tour of their characters’ feelings.

The camerawork is pretty uninspiring too. Any film set solely in bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens needs to be inventive in order to remain visually interesting. Franken is too reliant on the (admittedly very watchable) faces of Jones and Streep to engage the audience.

With his plodding, staid direction Franken risks propagating an untrue stereotype that the makers of this film would have been keen to subvert: that nothing of dramatic interest takes place in middle-aged relationships.