Liz Smith: "Hope Springs" is Seriously Charming

“ALWAYS A godfather; never a god!” said the late Gore Vidal,delivered in his usual pithy manner. More on this anon.

BUT FIRST, let’s give a thumbs up verdict to “Hope Springs” — a rare little movie that is really about something, starring Meryl Streep,Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. I guess this is a “comedy” but quite a lot of it is serious and might make you cringe.

If you can believe that the woman who played both the dynamic domineeringMargaret Thatcher and the deliciousJulia Child is a hopeless, despondent and put-upon matron — well, that’s the theme of “Hope Springs.” Her bullying, complaining, golf-loving husband isTommy Lee Jones and he seems very much his real self here. But both of the protagonists remind us over and over of how gifted they are.

It is always fabulous to watch real artists working at being something they really are not! Meryl, in this movie, is determined to solve issues of boredom, lack of intimacy and no sex. Tommy Lee becomes belligerent, then bewildered and ultimately, shocked and needy. A great deal of “Hope Springs” isn’t comedy at all; it’s heartfelt, heartbreaking and some of it is hard to take. (Sex counseling for lack of contact among older souls who’ve lost hope is not the “fun” some people expect from comedy.)

Steve Carell is solidly convincing. Some think his “straight and non-comedic” performance doesn’t work. But I think it does. He reminds me of a number of “shrinks” I’ve known personally.

“Hope Springs” offers us two of the best Oscar-winners in movie history, together for the very first time. Their co-star is one of the big funny success stories in Hollywood today. You owe it to yourself as a movie-goer and fan to give the three of them a chance to quarrel, kiss and makeup in a little film.

But I guarantee it will make you both applaud inwardly just as it makes you a wee bit uncomfortable.

If you are tired of explosions, guns and crash bang, this is for you.

I’VE PRINTED a lot of Gore Vidal quotes here since he died, but he was very much on my mind coming from a wonderful lunch in Michael’s celebrity restaurant where I met with two of Gore’s agent friends.

One is Boaty Boatwright, Gore’s real keeper of the flame. And she diverged from remembrances of Gore so we could discuss the late Sue Mengers whose ashes, along with those of her director husband — Jean-Claude Tramont — Boaty will soon be charged with distributing. Where? I’d rather not say; there may be a law against it.

My other host was one of the funniest guys I know, the L.A. agent Michael Black. He is the man who taught me to simply say “Suckez-les oeufs!” to critics. We had a bang-up lunch! (I am a sucker for anyone who can really, authentically, imitate Bette Davis.)

ON AUGUST 23, the producer Jeff Richards whom I’ve known since he was a little boy in short pants and who is now the producer of Gore’s “The Best Man” on Broadway, will host a remembrance of Gore at 12 noon in the Schoenfeld Theater. Should be quite a treat; full of the people Gore disdained, abused and did not quite approve of. But in the kindness of his heart, Gore was always a gentleman, and he wouldn’t deny access to his “betters” because he didn’t feel he had any. His play is, again (I think) the best drama on Broadway, full of portent for our times.

I AM left thinking that I have suffered some real losses this year. While awaiting the 2012 Apocalypse, so many talented and beloved souls have died. Maybe it’s no more than the year’s usual, but it feels worse.

For instance, I picked up USA Today this week to find a takeout on Julia Child. My impulse? To call Nora Ephron and ask what she thought? But Nora has left the building.

Also gone, with shocking suddenness — the man who always introduced himself to me as “your accompanist.” I mean the mighty multi-award winning and winningly sweet songwriter Marvin Hamlisch. (Because he played for us when Barbara Walters and I tried to raise money for charity, this is how Marvin styled himself.) He won everything there was to win in entertainment, worked like a dog every single day and would do anything for you if you just asked.

Then there is the inspired great writerRobert Hughes. If you never read Mr. Hughes, get thee to a bookstore and pick up his masterpiece, “The Fatal Shore,” which tells the amazing tale of how the British populated Australia with convicts and n’er-do-wells.

Robert was a dashing historian who putTime magazine on the map with his take on culture. His latest book is titled “Rome” and it is magnificent. Perhaps Robert wasn’t so horrified at leaving this life … he is released from what he deplored as the “dumbing down” of the civilized world … the crass pop moment of what is laughingly passing as “art” … the specific anti-intellectualism that we are mired in.

Then there was Ben Gazzara, one of the nicest men ever born and a helluva actor … the nightclub cabaret keeper of that flame Don Smith … the agent to the stars Sue Mengers … actor James Farentino … singers Whitney Houston and Etta James and Kitty Wells andDonna Summer … Robin Gibbs of the BeeGees … actress Ann Rutherford,almost the last of the stars from “Gone With the Wind” (the great Olivia de Havilland is still with us) … the feisty man who reduced Ethel Merman to silence, Ernest Borgnine … and my pet boss and mentor Mike Wallace. Oh yes, Dick Clark.

Yesterday came word that the once powerful movie critic Judith Crist has gone, which reminds me, another loss this year was the intellectual cinema examiner, Andrew Sarris. Both of these critics lived in a time when movie criticism was important. Today, nobody cares.

This column originally appeared on on 8/9/12

3 Responses so far.

  1. Ever since Kramer vs. Kramer, I have watched everything Meryl Streep has been in. There were a few disappointments along the way, but mostly she has delivered quality performances for over three decades.
    Thanks for letting us know about her latest, Liz.

    Susan Gabriel

    author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower     

  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    People now of course are wondering just where the ashes are going to be spread. The possibilties of course are endless to those with wondering, or should that be wandering, minds.

  3. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Though I generally avoid films of the “rom-com” genre, I have always had infinite respect for Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Add Steve Carell, an actor who has a much deeper well to tap than many modern comedians, and who shows a remarkable subtlety in the films in which I’ve seen him, and I have been drawn by “Hope Springs”. I am delighted to read your very positive review, as it supports the opinions I’ve developed just from watching the trailers. It looks like it will neatly sidestep all of the cliches and fluff, and saccharine pseudo-drama/half-wit sappy sexual comedy that plagues the genre. No Oprah-book-club, hand-wringing, angst-filled, Emo whiners here, and I hope “Hope” will be the fine, subtle, full story that you’ve indicated it is. Thank you Liz.