' ' Cinema Romantico: Hope Springs, Or: What The Hell Happened To Elisabeth Shue?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hope Springs, Or: What The Hell Happened To Elisabeth Shue?

Early in “Hope Springs”, directed competently if basically by David Frankel, the grouchy, closed-off, incessantly polo and khakied character of Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) orders an “Arnold Palmer and a tuna melt.” That’s pretty much “Hope Springs” as summarized via a restaurant check. Straightforward. Conventional. Opposed to risk taking. After years of wedded doldrums, Kay (Meryl Streep) forces Arnold to pack up and attend a week of intensive marriage therapy with Dr. Field (played by Steve Carrell in a role that essentially requires him to sit in the same chair with a few hardly noticeable costume changes) in scenic Maine.

You know how it’s going to go. I know how it’s going to go. We all know how it's going to go. Streep and Jones, however, admirably play their parts in such a way to make it appear as if they do not know how it's going to go. Kay is unable to communicate just how she feels or how she wants her marriage to improve, even if Streep conveys that Kay clearly does not feel right and clearly wants her marriage to improve. Arnold cannot communicate at all and does not want to communicate at all and makes even the smallest acts of communication come across like pulling teeth. Best of all, though, in spite of how foregone the conclusion might be, the screenplay refuses to manufacture asinine roadblocks on the road to the conclusion. It allows the characters work their issues out on their own.

However, none of that is what I would like to discuss in regards to “Hope Springs.” No, the most crucial issue at its conventional core is Elisabeth Shue.

You remember Elisabeth Shue. Twenty-five years ago she burst onto the scene as the most heroic babysitter of all time. Seven years later she earned an Oscar nomination (in my estimation she should have won) for her gut-wrenching work in “Leaving Las Vegas.” Slowly, however, her star has faded and in “Hope Springs” she turns up as a local bartender who serves Streep a bit of white wine. A ha!, I thought, Shue is playing the part of The Helpful Bartender, dispensing wisdom to Streep and then, probably later, Jones and maybe even being allowed to romance Carrell’s Dr. Field in a subplot. Excitement filled the air!

That woman? That woman whose face you can't see? That's Elisabeth Shue, Oscar nominee.
Except, no. Elisabeth Shue was never seen again. I repeat: Elisabeth Shue was never seen again. An Oscar nominee, she turns up in this $30 million film for about two, three minutes, serves a little wine, calls out a few locals for “not getting any” and is never heard from again. How can this be? Were there scenes left on the cutting room floor? How can you hire someone with a name as known as hers for a single scene of such inconsequence? It makes no sense. Unless this is really what Elisabeth Shue’s career has come to – excitedly jumping at a one scene walk off that could just as easily have been played by Khrystyne Haje.

“Hope Springs” revolves around a woman who has been marginalized in her own marriage. Tragically, “Hope Springs” does the exact same thing to Elisabeth Shue.


Wretched Genius said...

Two words: "Hollow Man."

Lexi said...

I need a "Tuna Melt and an Arnold Palmer"!!! This just made my day.

Nick Prigge said...

Brad: Yes. Okay. So her career choices haven't been great for the last 10 years but...... (sobbing)

Lexi: That line is the new "Who's the lady pig, sir?"

Andrew K. said...

Aaaaw, Nick. I can't share your heartbreak because Shue doesn't mean as much to me as she does for you - but I can sympathise.

Hope Springs is deft in its simplicity otherwise.

Nick Prigge said...

You may have to have been around in the 80's to truly have Shue nostalgia. Although I do still feel like her work as Sera in "Las Vegas" made me see her in a whole new light.

suzyq said...

Well said. Shue was amazing in Leaving Las vegas & I thought she'd push on to other great projects. Unfortunately not. Yet another failure by the Hollywood system to show off a talented actor.

Nick Prigge said...

It's such a shame, isn't it? That window closes so fast for women in Hollywood.

gofuckme said...

Loved Sera, from Las Vegas tonight. Not leaving yet. As to this piece, totally concur the disappointment.