Even when Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones butt heads in David Frankel's Hope Springs, sparks fly: they portray polar opposites, with Streep giving an understated performance as sad, sweet Nebraska housewife Kay and Jones as her cantankerous husband, Arnold, who stubbornly refuses her request to seek counseling after 31 years of marriage.
The couple sleeps in separate bedrooms, and Arnold is so set in his ways, he zones out each night watching golf on TV; meanwhile, Kay is bored and itching to restore intimacy in their stagnant, sexless relationship. Out of respect for his wife, Arnold reluctantly accompanies her to Maine to meet with a mild-mannered counselor (Steve Carell) who wrote a book called You Can Have the Marriage You Want.
"I heard somebody describe him in this movie as 50 Shades of Grumpy! And I loved it. I said, 'I'm stealing that!' So I'm letting you have it," Streep told THR at the film's New York premiere on Monday.
"Tommy Lee is one of our greatest actors," she gushed. "He's a national treasure. He's an icon of manhood. And he's someone that will make men unafraid to enter this territory."
Hope Springs, meanwhile, does not shy away from sex: both Streep and Jones display authenticity -- and an awkwardness that induces cringes, laughs and sometimes heartbreak -- as former lovers-turned-strangers attempting to connect during physical exercises prescribed by Carell's love guru. One scene involves a movie theater, and we'll leave it at that.
"What made (the script) extra amazing was the idea that, 'Oh, I'm gonna see Meryl Streep doing THIS? I can't believe it,'" director Frankel said. "And it was kind of shocking and yet thrilling that maybe that would happen, and it does happen. And it's a testament to her bravery as an actress and a great screenplay by Vanessa Taylor and it's a great ride. It's really amusing, and surprising."
The film marks Frankel's second time working with Streep since 2006's The Devil Wears Prada.
"She and I really wanted Tommy to do (Hope Springs), and he's been in love with her from afar for his whole life," he said. "Since he first saw her in New York 40 years ago, and for him, (it was) an incredible opportunity just to sit on a couch with her and play these scenes and she felt the same way instantly. And she was in awe of his acting, honestly. Every day she was amazed at the depth of his performance."
He added: "She's crazy about him and she kind of wanted him to steal the movie, which he almost does and that's pretty hard to do is try and steal the movie from Meryl Streep."