Now for the caveat: these counseling sessions, by their very nature, often involve frank discussions of sex. Questions range from what Kay and Arnold have done sexually to what they fantasize about, all in the name of getting to the core of their intimacy issues. The two are often uncomfortable at how personal and explicit these discussions become; audience members may be as well. 

The dynamic also translates to scenes outside the sessions. Many evenings involve Kay and Arnold trying to break through their intimacy barriers. At times that’s cute and awkward, at other times it involves sexual exploration. Whether practicing intimate caressing, acting more adventurous, or even exploring some fantasies (sometimes in public), the lengths to which they go speak to how far apart they’ve been. While that makes this movie decidedly for adults only (despite its somewhat inclusive PG-13 rating), the couple's actions feel purposeful rather than gratuitous.

For as provocative as its subject matter can be, Hope Springs is not heavy. Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) strikes a deft balance of light and serious tones throughout, in large part through the talents of his two Oscar-winning leads. Streep (The Iron Lady) makes the fragile yet courageous Kay so candid and vulnerable that every moment feels spontaneous and revelatory. Jones (Men In Black 3) can play Arnold’s gruff coldness for laughs, tension, or a poignant sadness, at times layering those dimensions all within the same moment.  As the therapist, Carell (Crazy Stupid Love) tones down his normal shtick to provide a calm but stern catalyst for this couple’s journey.

Hope Springs is an emotionally full experience. Being challenging takes it to another level, from that of a satisfying entertainment to something that could have a profound, meaningful, and even lasting impact on marriages. By being so accessible, it could give couples the courage to communicate more, to be more honest and intimate with each other, and to pursue much-needed counseling.

Hope Springs may also save a waning genre. When writer/director Nora Ephron (Julie & Julia, Sleepless in Seattle) passed away, many wondered if the romantic comedy passed along with her. If this film is any indication, hope springs by more than title alone.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Drinking at a bar.  Wine over dinner.  Champagne in a romantic setting.
  • Language/Profanity: A few instances of Christ’s name taken in vain.  One S-word. 
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: No nudity. Marital sexuality is thoroughly discussed and depicted. An early scene shows Kay in a nightgown trying to seduce her husband. Counseling sessions involve explicit topics such as oral sex, sexual positions, toys, orgasms, intercourse, masturbation, and a variety of sexual fantasies. Sexual activity away from the sessions is depicted as the couple attempts to regain intimacy. That involves sexual caressing and close physical intimacy, sexual intercourse (either under covers or mostly clothed), implied masturbation, and two attempts at oral sex. Sex-advice book titles seen, including Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man. A reference to watching porn.
  • Violence: None.

Publication date: August 8, 2012