Hope Springs

Hope Springs

Runtime 95 minutes.
Not for children.

From l, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in “Hope Springs.”

Meryl Streep has proven, at least to me, that she is not a comedienne, not a musical comedy star, and not an impressionist. What she is, is a fine dramatic actress. When she gets the right role, she can blow me away, as she did in Doubt (2008), just as she seems to blow others away by simply appearing on the screen in any old role.

Here she lights up the screen in translating a deep, perceptive script by Vanessa Taylor in her first screenplay for a feature film. For the last ten yearsTaylorhas written for TV. TV’s loss is movie goers’ gain because this is the best script of the year, at least so far.

Well-directed by David Frankel, whose biggest success to date has been The Devil Wears Prada, Streep and Tommy Lee Jones seem trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage, much to Streep’s displeasure. Jones is one of the more disagreeable husbands one could hope to meet.

Streep cajoles him to visitMaineand therapist Steve Carell.

Although there are a few other people in the cast, this is basically a film of three people, all of whom give Oscar®-quality performances. While it is labeled as a romantic comedy, it’s not very funny. Oh, there are a few lines and situations that might bring some chuckles, but this is more Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? than it is Pillow Talk or When Harry Met Sally. It’s not nearly as rough or brutal as ‘Woolf, but it explores the relationship between husband and wife just as thoroughly and probably with more depth because these characters are far more typical than the drunken couple in ‘Woolf. The talk is frank, and the acting by the three is mesmerizing, especially Streep, who really pulls at the heartstrings.

Carell foregoes his usual role as a deadpan comedian for this one as a caring psychoanalyst, and he nails it.

Even though it’s sometimes difficult to watch, this should be rewarded as one of the best of the year.Tayloris a screenwriter to watch.

The Campaign

Runtime 85 minutes.
Not for children.

From l, Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell in “The Campaign.”

This could have been a devastating indictment of political campaigns, but it would have taken the talent of, oh, W. S. Gilbert who put the needle to British politicians in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, this is put together by the members of theHollywoodleft, led by director Jay Roach and Will Ferrell, who constantly sinks into the depths of poor taste in his use of language. Ferrell apparently thinks acting like a nincompoop and using foul language equals comedy.

Instead of being an even-handed indictment of politicians, the film comes across as a diatribe of bias, blaming political corruption on corporations in the form of the Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), who are clearly based on the Koch Brothers, who support Republicans. But there’s nary a mention of all the money and political power of unions, who use their members’ mandatory dues to support Democrats. There’s apparently no realization by theHollywoodleft that corporations are the main source of American jobs.

Worse, Ferrell and Roach think that coarse language is humorous. As a result, they throw in every bad word in the English language for Ferrell to spout. Without all the bad words, this might have had some redeeming value, but Ferrell is so vulgar that it’s off-putting and offensive.

Satire should be relatively subtle to be effective. Ferrell, whose character might be based on the scummy Democrat John Edwards, is anything but subtle. His opponent, Zach Galifianakis, who is probably supposed to be a Tea Party composite, is unfortunately one-dimensional. The contrived situations that make up the bulk of the film are simply ridiculous. That they are generally of extreme low moral tone, handled correctly could have been hilarious and effective, an appropriate comment on the morality of politicians in general. But they are so clumsy that nobody laughed at my screening and it was on the Warner Bros. lot. When something goes so far over the top like this, it comes across as juvenile silliness.

Back in the day producers protected children from scandalizing language and situations when they appeared in films. In this one Roach has the two young children of Zach Galifianakis say things that are disgusting. It’s bad enough to have to listen to them describe things their characters have done, but one can’t help but wonder how their parents could allow them to mouth words like these in the script just because they are appearing in a movie.

The feel-good ending wimps out, completely contradicting Ferrell’s character which the entire film has exerted every effort to construct. Such an ending undoes what seems to be the point of the film, that politicians are basically immoral riffraff.

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