Although the tone of Steve Carell's couples-counseling character in Hope Springs is consistently placid and even-handed, it's also tellingly vague. Hope Springs might appear more contemplative than your average studio-produced rom-com, but that's only because it's atypically concerned with an older couple's marriage problems. Dr. Feld's (Carell) soothing advice sounds nice, but it's ultimately insubstantial. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play Kay and Arnold, a couple with marriage problems that only Kay is willing to acknowledge. In theory, Arnold and Kay's problems are universal. Their relationship has lost its intimacy, thanks in no small part to the fact that they haven't had sex in five years. But more often than not, screenwriter Vanessa Taylor and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) unfairly use Dr. Feld to preach tolerance to Arnold while otherwise pushing the audience towards blaming him for the couple's problems. Admittedly, you can't fully sympathize with either Kay or Arnold: Kay, in spite of her persistent best efforts, is always on the verge of tears, and Arnold is always bitching and grousing. Both characters are so caricaturishly sketched out that it often doesn't feel like they're really struggling with heavy marital problems. Jones and Streep give likable enough performances as a humane monster and a human victim. But their characters never become more than that. And for a rom-com that's trying to impress viewers with its progressive, sensitive sexual politics, that's pretty deadly. Simon Abrams
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