Now that the Olympics are over, John is again looking for movies for us to see weekly. This week’s movie was Hope Springs, with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as the older married couple who have fallen into a rut. They sleep in separate bedrooms since he hurt his back, but worse (to me, anyway) is that they don’t seem to connect on any level. Arnold is obsessed with his job and golf, not necessarily in that order, and Kay has a job at a clothing store but seems mostly to identify with her roles as wife and mother, and is taken for granted in the first and at a loss in the second now that the kids are grown.
When an attempt to initiate sex with her husband fails, Kay decides to take action and signs them both up for intensive couples counseling in Greater Hope Springs, Maine. Arnold is highly resistant, refusing to go at first, showing up at the airport only when Kay leaves without him, and sabotaging several of the exercises the therapist assigns for them. When he finally realizes what he has to lose and plans a romantic evening for Kay, what began well ends badly. They return home with Kay feeling frustrated and Arnold asking “It hasn’t been all bad, has it?”
I know I am supposed to identify with Kay, but I felt bad for Arnold. Both characters are stereotypes who only emerge as real people because they are being played by excellent actors. But Arnold in particular seems like the stereotype of the emotionally distant husband who thinks coming home at night and bringing home a paycheck are all that he needs to do to be a good husband. The movie pokes fun at him and Kay finally voices her disappointment at him for using gift giving occasions to buy things for the house (a hot water heater, a cable subscription), but I see these “presents” as Arnold’s way of being her protector.
I’m reminded of a older couple I knew when I was much younger, living in a small town in New Jersey. They owned a small grocery store in the heart of town. One day, the husband told us proudly, “She never had to eat margarine. Even during the war (World War II), she always had butter.” I thought that was the most romantic thing I had ever heard anyone say.
Of course, I don’t know how his wife felt about it. She might have preferred less butter and more flowers, or diamonds, for all I know. But I suspect she knew he really wasn’t just talking about butter.
Arnold, however, is not even at that point. Kay is important to him, but he has his own disappointments, and seems to think that if he never complained, she shouldn’t either. His biggest fear seems to be that if they admit their disappointments with each other, their marriage will fall apart. It’s easier for him to understand that his house needs maintenance than that his marriage does.
The movie does have a happy ending, as unlikely as it sometime seemed that it would ever get there and despite the painful moments along the way. Don’t go expecting the merry, slapstick comedy the previews seem to promise. But go, is what I’d advise. Bring tissues.