HOPE SPRINGS. Scrolling through Meryl Streep's résumé on IMDb.com, it's nearly impossible to find a bad film. Try it. I dare you. Sure, there are silly films and sappy films, films you wouldn't watch without your children or grandparents present; none of them are bad, though. On the surface, Hope Springs appears to be this sort of film. The trailers portray it as a quirky, post-menopausal How Stella Got Her Groove Back, but the trailers lie. Hope Springs is about the pain and strength that goes into repairing a marriage that's devoid of intimacy and emotional connection. It's more like How Stella Had a Big Breakthrough in Therapy.
After more than 30 years of marriage, Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have become more akin to roommates than lovers. They sleep in separate rooms and sex is something they vaguely remember. Arnold is cold and distant, working within the limiting confines of the gender roles of his generation. Kay is tangled up in her own anxiety, desperately trying to reconnect with her husband via any means necessary. After failed attempts to resurrect the passion in their lives, Kay signs them up for a weeklong intensive therapy session led by Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell). Despite his grumbling refusal, Arnold tags along once he realizes that it's the only chance he has to save his marriage.
While the plot is not completely original, the film is bolstered by an intricate and beautifully written script. Screenwriter Vanessa Taylor (Game of Thrones) deserves kudos for a story that's both poignant and charming, not an easy line to walk. She doesn't exaggerate the pain of the main characters, nor does she place them in unnecessarily absurd situations (the relentless approach of most romantic comedies). The therapy sessions are agonizingly uncomfortable to watch, lending more verisimilitude to the whole film. Taylor and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) don't mine the therapy sessions for laughs or reduce them to satire. Instead they allow those scenes to stand on their own, building tension and pushing the characters to their limits.
Carell, meanwhile, delivers a performance equal to his work in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Dan in Real Life. His grasp on comedy is tenacious, and he wields his skills carefully and precisely. There's nothing hackneyed or stereotypical in his portrayal of the marriage therapist. It takes an amazing understanding of timing and character to propel a dramatic story forward while also providing the comic relief.
Hope Springs will rip you apart a bit before it puts you back together, but it can still be considered a "feel good" movie. It's a medium weight romantic comedy, perfectly cast and excellently delivered. As long as you don't watch it with your grandparents, it's sure to entertain. PG13. 100m.
THE CAMPAIGN. As we approach high tide in the election cycle and the political rhetoric grows more rampantly ludicrous, political satire has to push itself to extremes in order to stay relevant. Or at least that's how I validated my excitement about the new Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis farce-apalooza The Campaign. Ferrell and Galifianakis are genuinely talented and have a comedic chemistry that meshes extremely well on screen. Nonetheless, like other films directed by Jay Roach (Dinner for Schmucks, Meet the Fockers), The Campaign wastes a talented cast.
Longtime North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) has let the power of politics go to his head; one scandal after another has left his reputation in ruins. Brady's district is key for the unethical business plot of The Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), a pair of exaggerated one-percenters. Fearing the loss of their political pawn, the brothers throw their money behind a new candidate, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis). Huggins is the poster child for soft, southern hospitality, but he has a questionable grip on his heterosexuality and a color-blind fashion sense. Brady's narcissistic machismo is supposed to clash against Huggins' feminine humility, but both characters come across as recycled and phoned-in.
Ferrell's depiction of Brady is lazily close to his impression of George W. Bush, an obvious similarity that screenwriters Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy must have overlooked when they set the film in a southern state. Galifianakis' character is quite literally recycled: In the Funny or Die web series Between Two Ferns, Galifianakis occasionally portrays his twin brother, Seth Galifianakis, who is identical to Marty Huggins, save for the name.
The Campaign has its moments, but most of them are in the preview. Aykroyd and Lithgow (whose characters are eerily reminiscent of the Duke Brothers in 1983's Trading Places) are a sight for sore eyes, but their short roles are only good for a light chuckle. Dylan McDermott delivers the film's best performance as the overbearing campaign manager. Then again, he may have stood out because he's the only one with a hint of subtlety. Subtlety is in Ferrell's wheelhouse (see: Stranger than Fiction, Everything Must Go), but he has yet to harness it in a major studio comedy. The Campaign goes on the shelf with Ferrell's other flops: Semi-Pro and Blades of Glory. R. 85m.
RUBY SPARKS. Calvin (Paul Dano) is a novelist who breaks his writer's block by creating a female character who both inspires and loves him. When she materializes on his couch a week later (in the form of adorable indie actress Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay), Calvin is agog. From the directors of Little Miss Sunshine. R. 103m.
THE EXPENDABLES 2. Seniors on steroids return with more action than you can shake a walking stick at. This time out, Sly Stallone hands over directing duties to Simon "Con Air" West while reuniting with Schwarzenegger, Statham, Willis, Van Damme, et al. R. 102m.
PARANORMAN. Shot in the stop-motion animation style of Coraline (2009) and Corpse Bride (2005), this supernatural family film follows a misunderstood boy who must save his town from zombies and ghosts. PG. 93m
THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN. From the author of What's Eating Gilbert Grape comes a fantasy about a childless couple who write down all their hopes for a young'un, then bury them in a box in the backyard. Lo, a child appears. PG. 100m.
SPARKLE. "American Idol" alum Jordin Sparks stars in this drama about a 1960s Motown girl group torn apart by fame, featuring Whitney Houston in her final film role. PG13. 116m.
HIT AND RUN. Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell and Bradley Cooper star in this crude comedy about an ex-bank robber who blows his Witness Protection Plan cover in order to help his girlfriend. R. 100m.
The Arcata Theatre Lounge will host a mini film fest Saturday night with a pair of documentary shorts: Black Rock Horse offers a 30-minute look behind the construction and deployment of a massive, rolling Trojan horse at last year's Burning Man festival, and The Bus chronicles the history and cultural impact of the Volkswagen bus, which should probably be declared Arcata's official vehicle. Doors open at 8 p.m. on Sunday, at 6 p.m., the ATL will screen The Dark Crystal, the 1982 fantasy film from Muppet maestros Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night is something of a departure with Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005) followed by Italian Spiderman (2005), a deliberately campy homage to Italy's action-adventure films of the 1960s and 1970s.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Director Mark Webb manages to give Spidey new dimension in this satisfying, if extraneous, reboot. PG13. 136m.
THE BOURNE LEGACY. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) replaces Matt Damon in the action franchise based on Robert Ludlum's international thriller novels. PG13. 125m.
BRAVE. Pixar's stunning animation doesn't disappoint, even if this tale of a precocious Scottish princess lacks the studio's usual depth. PG. 93m.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Christopher Nolan completes his Batman trilogy with this mournful, contemplative blockbuster that still brings the exhilarating action. PG13. 164m.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS. Slapstick kid comedy in which the titular "wimpy kid" has a mishap at a public pool, among other misadventures.PG. 94m.
ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT. More prehistoric hijinks from Manny the mammoth, Diego the saber-tooth and Sid, the lisping sloth. PG. 94m.
MAGIC MIKE. Channing Tatum stars as a male stripper/aspiring entrepreneur in director Steven Soderbergh's gritty-yet-fleshy drama. R. 110m.
STEP UP REVOLUTION. Go for the dancing; stay for the ... well, the dancing is pretty much the only draw here. PG13. 97m.
TED. This feature film debut from Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, about a pothead Bostonian (Mark Wahlberg) and his sentient teddy bear, is crass, uproarious and surprisingly touching. R. 106m.
TOTAL RECALL. Lackluster and pointless remake of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film. PG13. 121m.
THE WATCH. A sci-fi comedy starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade that wastes a fine cast on crass, formulaic material. R. 101m.
— Ryan Burns