While their marriage has made it to a 31st anniversary, Kay (Meryl Streep being frumpy) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones being Neanderthal) have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for some years. We see the rut that has become their lives, as Kay decides she needs nooky back in her life. She dolls herself up in makeup and negligee, but Arnold rejects her with a grumpy grunt or two. Kay breaks out of her disconcertingly passive wifey pattern and signs them up for an intensive therapeutic week in Maine with Dr Bernard Feld (Steve Carell in the blandest role he probably hopes he will ever have to play) in the town of Hope Springs.
Arnold resists, resists, resists. Kay suffers, suffers, suffers. There’s a bit of hope, but no, it ain’t gonna happen. But wait, big break-through (we’re talking on the level of actually sleeping in the same bed together), but no, it’s still not gonna happen. In the end, of course, everyone lives happily ever after.
One wonders how Kay so totally missed the 60s. She is an utterly stereotypical 50s housewife who puts up with her moody husband’s rudeness with smile after smile. Her patient subservience to his insufferable gruffness is boring. They can’t talk about sex and seem never to have had much. They can’t say sexual words, like they’ve just been released from a 1958 blush bubble. Apparently, even the sex therapist hasn’t heard about the discovery of the clit. (“Have you had an orgasm, vaginal or otherwise?” he asks Kay.) It is simply hard to believe that this is all taking place in the 21st century.
There are a couple of near-sex scenes that end in tears, but neither my companion nor I could figure out what actually goes wrong. The week away is about grappling with their lack of sex in a frank way, but we never find out how their attempts at grappling go: does he cum? does he lose his erection? Why does he keep storming away from their embrace? They are fully clothed at all times, including when he seems to mount her in the fancy hotel room, before he pulls away. Even when she masturbates (he claims not to masturbate!), she seems to do it by tentatively touching her breasts. And when she buys bananas to practice giving a blow job as described in a sex book their therapist suggests, she forgets what she’s doing and eats the fruit.
The question of maintaining passion in long-term relationships is of interest to everyone in long-term relationships. The issue of post-50 passion is on the minds of everyone over 50. But this movie is so vanilla, so repressed, and so devoid of real motivation and excitement, that one is resigned to Arnold suddenly becoming Mr. Touchy-Feely while Kay does what Kay does: smiles gratefully.
Here's the trailer