Let’s meet the Soames family. “Arnold Soames” (Tommy Lee Jones) is an accountant who has a bad back, loves golf so much he falls asleep every night watching golf instructional television, and has been married for 31 years to “Kay” (Meryl Streep). Kay works in a clothing store and longs for the days when Arnold didn’t sleep in a separate bedroom because of his bad back. She longs for the days when he would touch her with longing, and kiss her somewhere other than chastely on the cheek . She longs for the days when they had sex. Frustrated, she is wandering through the self-help section of a brick and mortar bookstore (they are getting rarer and rarer, aren’t they?) when she finds a book on having a better marriage by “Dr. Bernie Feld” (Steve Carell) and buys it.
She soon discovers that he offers week-long intensive couples counseling seminars and she signs up for one, planning to go with or without Arnold. Arnold definitely does not want to go, but when confronted with an ultimatum that she’s going to be on the plane, he goes. But as is his want, he gripes about everything from the moment the plane lands and they drive off to get to Great Hope Springs, ME.
It’s a small Maine town, with old, beautiful buildings, and as Arnold points out, overpriced restaurants. They take up residence at the Econolodge, where the room comes with a pull-out sofa/bed since Arnold has a bad back after all.
Then comes their first session with Dr. Feld. He’s warm, engaging and everything you’d expect a professional therapist to be. Everything you would NOT expect a Steve Carell character to be. He asks probing questions and while it’s tough sledding at first, soon the couple is opening up. At least a little.
Slowly, the real issues come to light. What led to their sleeping in separate bedrooms and why it never stopped. How long it’s been since they had sex. When they stopped touching each other. How they’ve managed to get this point after 31 years of marriage, where life is such a routine that Kay poaches the single egg and cooks the sole slice of bacon that Arnold eats each morning, finishing and plating them just as he walks in the room. Life has become nothing more than each day’s passing, with the requisite rituals that start, fill and end each day. It is an empty existence and Kay is intent on making it fulfilling once again, even if it means risking everything.
Streep and Jones are just fine in their roles, she the woman who loves her man and wants little more for him to show his love for her in return. He, the man focused on his work, his other interests and having lost sight of his wife’s needs. And perhaps, of his own. Carell is excellent as the therapist who sincerely wants to help the couples he sees. He’s willing to ask the questions they won’t ask themselves and help guide them to the solutions that exist within themselves, but that they won’t reach for on their own.
Elisabeth Shue has a couple of great moments as a bartender that Kay encounters in a particularly rough moment. Jean Smart is perfect as Kay’s co-worker who has been her sounding board. The casting of the small roles, right down to Mimi Rogers as their neighbor who is the object of one of Arnold’s fantasies. Props for very effective use of music to set up and enhance certain moments of the film.
This isn’t a laugh out loud comedy, although there are certainly moments where they will be titters, giggles and a few outright laughs. But it’s touching and poignant and worthy of a viewing.