Published Aug 08, 2012You know your marriage of 31 years is in some trouble when your anniversary gift to each other is a cable subscription to lots more channels. And it can't be a good sign that you're sleeping in separate rooms and you have to wake him up and remind him to go to bed when he's drifted off again watching the golf network.
This familiar empty nest stasis is captured with a gentle comic touch by the always reliable talents of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, as Kay and Arnold. It's evident to her that the flames have died down and when she stumbles upon a self-help book, the decision is made to enlist the help of its author, Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell), who practices, by chance, in a quaint Maine town.
To say that Arnold is reluctant would be a whopper of an understatement. He is stubborn, ornery and averse to any sort of counselling, resulting in numerous setbacks to any progress after finally succumbing to the doctor's methods. These begin with simple exercises such as putting their arms around each other to later attempting an act in a theatre that would make Alanis Morissette especially proud.
The story is free of any sub-plots, allowing its two leads to take centre stage, while also proving to make for a redundant and predictable arc to mending their marriage. The presence of Carell is all but wasted, as one would expect his role to be, if not funny, at least a three-dimensional human being, rather than the cardboard cut-out of a therapist he does all he can to bring to life.
It's a testament to their abilities that Streep and Jones make it all worthwhile. She expertly embodies the frustrations of those yearning for just a little more from domesticity, conveying in a smile what others can't wring from entire performances. Jones reveals comedic chops that are sometimes forgotten, speaking in distinct staccato bursts of ennui.
Director David Frankel (Marley and Me) has a track record of bringing out the best from his actors (as he did previously with Streep in The Devil Wears Prada), and here he is wise enough to unobtrusively allow these two luminaries to shine. That they are operating at a level the rest of the production never quite matches is likely to be expected when considering the rarefied air they occupy. (Sony)