Kay decides she has had enough of that. So she dips into her savings to book the two of them a vacation in a rustic Maine village, which includes intensive couples' counseling sessions with a psychologist, Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell). Arnold hates the idea, and the money spent on such a trip but reluctantly plays along when he sees how determined Kay is about doing it.
What follows is a deftly balanced three-handed drama, precisely written by Vanessa Taylor, a TV writer ("Game of Thrones," "Everwood") making her movie debut. Kay and Arnold slowly, sometimes painfully, open up to each other and to the patiently guiding Dr. Feld. They talk about their sexual preferences, fantasies, satisfaction (or the lack of it) and how, precisely, they stopped being in love with each other.
In between their sessions with the good doctor, Kay and Arnold try to put advice into practice, which leads to moments that are both hilariously funny and touchingly moving.
And though some familiar faces pop up among them Jean Smart as Kay's co-worker, Elisabeth Shue as an understanding bartender and Mimi Rogers as a neighbor director David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada," "The Big Year") smartly keeps the focus on Kay and Arnold and their therapist.
Carell is perfect as the even-tempered therapist, but the real fireworks are set off by Streep and Jones. Streep, naturally, conveys a wealth of emotions with the slightest flicker of a smile, and she's constantly adding shading to the frustrated Kay. (There's a bit of business involving a banana that's to die for.) Jones is the surprise here, turning his taciturn persona inward like never before, and uncovering unknown depths of feeling.
Frankel does make a few small missteps, notably in an overloaded soundtrack that needlessly telegraphs emotions we're already feeling for these characters. "Hope Springs" works best in its minimalist moments, when there's only three (or fewer) actors onscreen, and they're all catching fire at the same time.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are terrific as a couple trying to get the spark back in their marriage.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens today, Wednesday, Aug. 8.
Rating • PG-13 for mature thematic content involving sexuality.
Running time • 100 minutes.