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Hope Springs

An old couple learns new tricks in this ­surprising comedy

Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep and Steve Carell. <<© Sony Pictures Entertainment>>

After 30-odd years of marriage, Kay (Meryl Streep: The Iron Lady) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones: Men in Black 3) have a routine: Kay suffers in silence as she does housework, longing for grand romantic gestures. Arnold ignores her. They sleep in different rooms and barely touch, talk or acknowledge each other in front of their grown children.
    From the outside, they’re every couple of a certain age. From the inside, it’s amazing they haven’t snapped.
    When their anniversary passes and Kay sees a lifetime of chaste monotony stretching before her, she books a week of intensive couple’s therapy. Arnold, who believes their relationship is normal, is blindsided, betrayed and angry. But to save his marriage, or maybe to ensure he doesn’t have to cook his own meals, he acquiesces.
    They leave dull Omaha for the quaint and remote town of Hope Springs, Maine. Their half-day therapy sessions lead Dr. Feld (Steve Carell: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) to diagnose a lack of intimacy. Feld suggests touching exercises and mortifies Arnold by delving into their sexual history.
    What it comes down to is this: Arnold is a bully and Kay is a prude. Can either learn to change? Can they reinvent their marriage? Or will Dr. Feld’s prying further fray their already tattered relationship?
    In spite of its rather light-looking advertising campaign, Hope Springs has genuine moments of drama and angst sprinkled with comedy. The problems that Kay and Arnold have are numerous and real, with no easy answers. The focus on their sex life, a recipe for easy comedy, also makes for touching moments.
    Hope Springs is one of the few pieces of entertainment since The Golden Girls that frankly addresses the sexual issues of aging Americans. For some, that will be pretty awkward, so come prepared to watch Streep pleasure herself and give Jones a sensual rub down.
    Hope Springs depends on great performances. Director David Frankel (The Big Year) wisely avoids fancy camera work and allows Jones and Streep to spar. They’re worthy opponents, with Jones grumbling and snarling as Streep seeks her voice.
    The real surprise, however, is Carell, who plays it straight with fascinating results. He projects warmth that makes us understand why even the unreceptive Arnold can trust him.
    The problem is the easy ending. After shockingly frank and emotionally wrought therapy sessions, the film fails to present a believable solution.
    All in all, it’s a treat to watch Jones and Streep wrestle — both literally and figuratively — on the big screen. Still, this may not be the movie you want to take your parents to.

Fair Romantic Comedy • PG-13 • 100 mins.