Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5. USA, 2012. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Mandate Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Entertainment 360, Escape Artists. Screenplay by Vanessa Taylor. Cinematography by Florian Ballhaus. Produced by Todd Black, Guymon Casady. Music by Theodore Shapiro. Production Design by Stuart Wurtzel. Costume Design by Ann Roth. Film Editing by Steven Weisberg. Golden Globe Awards 2012.
The reunion of Meryl Streep with her Devil Wears Prada director would be expected to result in nothing but perfection, but everything fizzles with this completely uninspiring and only occasionally funny comedy. Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play a middle-aged couple whose nest has been empty for a while and whose marriage is waning down: they haven’t had sex in years and she is tired of dealing with the fact that romance is nowhere on the horizon. Despite her husband’s angry objections, Streep signs the two of them up for a couples counselling retreat in New England where they will spend far too much money getting to know each other again and putting the zing back into their sex life. The usual silliness ensues of uncomfortably explicit conversations and scenes of the greatest actress in American cinema practicing on a banana, but what’s most strange about this film are the long, drawn-out scenes of heavy discussion. Streep and Jones’s characters have incredibly deep issues that are not in the least bit funny, and there are extended sequences of conversations that do a terrific job of ringing true about the realities of long-term relationships and where years of familiarity can unfortunately go (one moment is genuinely funny: Streep’s reaction to the question of receiving oral sex and shouting a “What?” as if she never knew it was a possibility). Truthful as these scenes are, however, they do not contribute either to pace or momentum, and there is no sense at all that the film achieves much character process before a last-minute switch that doesn’t give the feeling of resolution but just exhaustion. Of course, Streep is terrific and Jones matches her every step of the way, and I’m thrilled that in her sixties she finally feels comfortable being penetrated on screen, but whatever work is being done by the performers (or not being done: Steve Carell as their therapist without the least bit of charm or wit is a waste of his talent) is undermined by a director who appears to be asleep behind the wheel.