“Hope Springs” – new reviews + interview

New reviews and interview with the producers and the director was published, you can read them below:

Today Sony Pictures is doing the unthinkable. It is breaking, on a wide release of 2500+ screens, a dialogue-driven adult comedy/drama about the sex life (or lack of it) of a long-married couple both in their 60′s. And in the middle of August no less!

Sure it stars Meryl Streep, a bona fide box office draw even at her age, but  it’s highly unusual and somewhat risky business to go this wide with a movie that is clearly aimed at themuch older audience who is slow to show up no matter what the attraction. The studio is opening on a Wednesday in order to build some good word of mouth and reviews for its first weekend where it must face more typical summer flicks like Universal’s The Bourne Legacy  and Warner Bros. The Campaign. Currently it stands at a decent 77% fresh for reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, a good sign for a movie that would seem like it would be more indie-oriented fodder than summertime major studio fare.

With the August release though Sony is also getting a jump on awards season as this cast  includes such Oscar favorites as 17- time nominee and 3- time winner Streep (most recently in February for The Iron Lady) as well as Supporting Actor winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive), along with a deadpan Steve Carell as their couples therapist who counsels them at a week-long retreat on how to put the sexual spark back into their marriage. Of course Streep tends to get Oscar noms for just showing up on the set, while Jones was last nominated for Best Actor for 2007′s In The Valley Of Elah, a bit of a surprise then since his film was a boxoffice non-starter that had largely been written off at that point indicating the Academy likes him, they really like him. Both stars are getting strong reviews so far. Whether the strategy works at the boxoffice for this very Academy-friendly fare (official Los Angeles Academy member screening is Sunday night at the Goldwyn) remains to be seen but producers Todd Black and Guymon Casady told me they are just hoping the audience turns out, and happy they decided to go the studio route even though that wasn’t initially the plan.

“It wasn’t always at a studio,”  says Casady, a founding partner of Mangagement 360 whose credits includeThe Expendables and its upcoming sequel and is Co-Executive Producer of HBO’s Game Of Thrones. He first discovered the script by Vanessa Taylor who  later became one of his clients and now works on Thrones. “Sony has been incredibly supportive of the movie but it had a journey before it came to Sony. With Mandate’s help – they backed an offer to Meryl early in the process – it really was the catalyst for the project coming together”.   He explained his  wife had stumbled on to a copy of  the script, read it, and insisted he read it too that same night before going to bed. He did and knew immediately he had to produce the movie. At that point he found a producing partner in Black (Antwone Fisher, The Taking Of Pelham 123, The Pursuit Of Happyness).

“Someone in my company had read it and said ‘you love good writing and this is really good writing. I read it immediately , put it down and was knocked out. Then I re-read it again which I never do. It was one of the best scripts I have seen in years”,  said Black of the screenplay that actually was on Hollywood’s famous “blacklist” of the hottest unproduced scripts before being rescued by this pair. “I knew  they were talking to other producers but I said if you allow me to, I will get Meryl Streep and get this movie made the way Guyman and Vanessa wanted it to be made”.

At one point another financier/ producer was involved  but it would have been made earlier for $4 million with different, more indie-centric actors. Casady and Black believed it could be a bigger project  with superstar actors despite the unconventional subject matter.

“It’s hard material  and we knew if we didn’t get Meryl it would have a lot of trouble getting made, even with a very good actress in her age range – and there are a number of them -but to make it a mainstream movie for bigger audiences Meryl is the biggest draw around for actresses today and we knew a studio like Sony, which happens to be my home studio, would really respond to that and see it as a bigger movie vs. trying to do it independently”, said Black. He said they had to wait a year for Streep until she was finished with her committment to It’s Complicated.  But she sparked to the script and eventually her agent called and said she was in. Once that happened it came together quickly since Streep was a lightning rod for other actors and even suggested Jones as the perfect co-star (at one time Jeff Bridges was discussed and Mike Nichols was mentioned as director until Streep’s final choice of her Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel came on board).

As for the subject matter which is clearly targeted at an older audience Black says he thinks it is for anybody. “You don’t have to be married. You don’t have to be a senior to understand yourself and the person you’re with. We all know that’s complicated and it has highs and lows at any age. It affects you physically and mentally and for me that’s as relatable as it gets, ” he says.

Casady agrees saying “It’s about intimacy and whether you have been married  for two weeks or 30 years the same thing applies. Obviously we hope it is a piece of entertainment. We hope people enjoy the movie but if what comes out of it is that people leave the theatre and talk about their relationships and  it becomes a catalyst for people talking about  the institution  of marriage in a broader way, great,” he said.

So why not release this in Fall when these kind of adult-skewing, Oscar bait movies are generally found in theatres? “There was a lot of debate  and conversation about the date,”  said Casady. “There was talk about December until the smart guys in marketing at Sony decided to move it up to the middle of August,”  and as the producers like to  point out  adult-skewing titles like The Help, Julie And Julia and Eat Pray Love were all released to good results around the same spot on the calendar. “The thinking behind that was kind of August- going- into- Fall the comic book and kid movies are over and adults can enjoy themselves as we head towards Fall. That’s the thinking and hopefully they are right”,  adds Black.

The trailer has emphasized the comedic, lighter aspects of the film on purpose but TV spots are now broadening the scope of the film which veers from comedy to drama, sometimes in the same scene. The producers hope the  TV spots, combined with the trailer and reading reviews (since older audiences actually still read them) will help take the onus off the fact that the trailer was funny while the movie is more than that.  “Hopefully people don’t  feel mislead but feel it exceeded expectations”, says Casady.

“We really went for comedy and drama. I think the movie can live in that”,  Black says. But whether it can live in the heat of summer – and beyond into the heart of Oscar season – is a question that is about to be answered.

Complete review

The movie “Hope Springs” brings two words to mind: painfully funny. This gem of a film stars Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as Kay and Arnold, a Midwestern couple with two grown children. Married more than 30 years, their relationship has been ossified by age, domestic routine and a sea of unspoken hurts that crest like a tsunami between them. Seeking to revive their intimacy, Kay schedules a week of intensive couples therapy in Maine with a counselor named Dr. Feld, played by Steve Carell.

Although it’s high-stakes drama –- you really don’t know until the end if this marriage can be saved — it’s a nuanced portrait of a relationship in which nothing, and yet everything, happens.

“It’s a little journey,” said Streep in a roundtable with a dozen reporters in New York. “That’s the story: A door opens. It’s not hyperbolic at all; it’s just a little movement within a relationship. But it’s seismic and it speaks to people; it’s [about] your deepest yearning.”

Ironically, screenwriter Vanessa Taylor, co-executive producer on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” is unmarried and decades younger than the characters in the film. So why this story for her first feature?

“I kept having these unsuccessful relationships [that weren’t] just unsuccessful, they were unsuccessful in exactly the same way. I kept ending up at this place of distance,” she told me in sit-down interview. Taylor began reading therapy books, and found the composite couples described tended to be older and long-married. “And it just suddenly started to dawn on me: I’m having this problem and I’m younger and feel pretty in the swim of things. How much harder would that be? How awkward would that be?”

And awkward it is: Carell, who plays the straight man in this set piece, asks the couple pointed questions about their sex lives that leaves the audience alternately cringing and laughing out loud. I asked Carell if he was squeamish about certain lines.

“You mean, ‘What about masturbation?’” he said, eliciting a roar of laughter from reporters. “No, I wasn’t. When I read the part I thought, ‘Am I really going to say these things to Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones?’” But he quickly got into character: “The last thing a therapist would do is to shy away from any of those topics. I feel like he’s old school in his approach … and [he] comes from a place of real kindness and earnestness.”

Tommy Lee Jones delivers a richly layered performance as Arnold, who is stoic and frugal and a bit of a bully toward Kay at the outset — but also a solid and loyal family man. As he moves toward acknowledging his pain, vulnerability and desire — as he regains lost hope — there’s almost a physical transformation, from frumpy to sexy.

“Little things mean a lot, it’s been said,” Jones noted. “Small details … individualize a character –- clothes, eye glasses, hair. Arnold’s kind of lost…”

“Everything you did was just perfect,” Streep chimed in. “Just the way he wore his shirts and the defeat in his posture — every little thing carries a meaning. It was important to us that it feel authentic.”

How did Jones and Streep feel about the sex scenes?

“People think that’s harder than the [therapy] on the couch, but frankly the things on the couch are harder,” Streep explained. One particularly memorable intimate scene in a movie theater is “essentially comic, heartbreaking, real — but it wasn’t as hard as breaking the cement of your emotional resistance to admitting loneliness; or having something really pierce you that your husband says about you. That’s the harsher moment. The movie theater was kind of fun.”

Jones agreed. “There was nothing particularly daunting about those sex scenes,” he said, adding he’s wanted to work with Streep since they met in the 70s. “Think about a fight scene … you’re interested in the illusion of that, sure, but you have no interest in the real thing. It’s the same thing [with] the sex scene — you’re interested in the illusion of passion or the illusion of disappointment or the illusion of longing. The real things … you shouldn’t bring to the workplace.”

The movie hilariously captures the quirks of long-married couples. (My husband and I are guilty of at least one crime of non-passion in the script: buying each other something for the house for Christmas.) Director David Frankel, who worked with Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada,” told me the actors could relate to Kay and Arnold as well.

“All of the golf references in the movie are … very personal to Meryl because her husband is a golfer; in her home the golf channel is on all the time and … she really doesn’t give a hoot,” Frankel said in a sit-down interview, admitting the same is true in his marriage. “So that was fun for her in a teasing way.” (Streep has been married to sculptor Don Gummer since 1978.)

Shot in 37 days in a Connecticut town that stood in for Maine, “Hope Springs” makes the most of the coastal beauty, and has fun with small-town claustrophobia — as everyone from the diner waitress to the bookstore clerk knows why Kay and Arnold have come to visit.

Frankel also captures the hypnotic rhythm of domestic life -– Kay serving eggs for breakfast, Arnold reading the paper, both closing the doors on their separate bedrooms at night. “This is how you march through the day and weeks and years,” he said. “That’s what is so brave about her trying to take command and saying, ‘I’m not going to stand for this anymore.’”

For Frankel, who has been married 14 years, the film was personal as well. He recalled attending a dinner with seven of his closest friends from college. “We were in our late 40s at that time, and every one of us had in their marriages experienced separation, divorce or cancer,” he said. “I was shocked by that. So you know how much trauma there is in people’s lives. But for me, marriage is always worth fighting for.”

Finally, while the film isn’t age-specific -– “you can enter that zone of not knowing how to reach each other in an intimate relationship at any point” Streep insisted –- the viewer feels Kay’s urgency, her desire to not end her days in an emotional stalemate.

“Everybody is contending with the same thing at a certain point in life –- you see certain doors are closed,” said Streep. “You’re facing a shorter journey and [wanting to know] how to make it richer, how to make it mean something.”

Complete review


2 thoughts on ““Hope Springs” – new reviews + interview

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