A short profile of Hope Springs screenwriter Vanessa Taylor in this past Sunday's New York Times posited that her and director David Frankel's new film might join The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among the year's major events for moviegoers of the osteoporosis set.
Well, maybe. Helping its chances: Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell on the marquee.
But the notion of the tragically underserved mature Hollywood audience (Get off my lawn, Batman!) is right up there with the music press's "hey, there are women who rock" stories on the "no fucking shit" meter. The fact that Exotic has grossed $44 million in this country — making it The Matrix for retirees — owes something to that movie having been regarded as an object of curiosity by critics and writers complicit in some smart marketing. That frustrated, discerning nation of PBS-philes and multiplex-phobes might also be the last ticket buyers out there who make decisions based on what they read.
To these people I ask: Are you ready to relate to Streep trying to go down on Jones in a movie theater, in a therapy-driven effort to save their characters' marriage? (And is Meryl Streep having to blow somebody a metaphor for Hollywood's tentpole state?)
There's more to Hope Springs than that, and Jones and Streep are effortlessly credible (and, in flashes, affecting). But they (and a warm but stranded Carell) deserve a movie with more faith in them. Each gives a visually nuanced performance, from wardrobe to gesture to their eyes, only to have their work smothered by a pop-song-dense soundtrack that's more afraid of silence than the most counseling-desperate couple. There are a handful of witty lines, and there's recognizable emotion here, but Frankel has directed this like a Seventh Heaven rerun.
I'm just cranky, though, because I guess I'm one of them now, one of those where's-my-movie people. Last night I could have seen this or the Will Ferrell-Zach Galifianakis comedy, The Campaign — the lowest-common-denominator trailer for which promised that a baby would be punched. (Cost and geography factored not at all — these were free screenings, and each was equally inconvenient to work, home and dinner plans.) I chose Hope Springs, and maybe it was still the right call — even if it wasn't the smart call.