Meryl Streep gets suggestive with a banana in this surprisingly saucy comedy drama co-starring Tommy Lee Jones. Thankfully though, director David Frankel (who cast Streep in The Devil Wears Prada) doesn't make his leading lady stoop too low for laughs, instead using delicate strokes to paint an intriguing picture of married life in middle age.
It's a different sort of humiliation that Kay (Streep) is subjected to after three decades in wedlock, reduced to playing housemaid to Arnold (a typically irascible Jones) and sleeping in separate rooms. She draws the line after Arnold rejects her advances one night and enrols them on a course of couples' therapy at the seaside town of Great Hope Springs.
Steve Carell plays the part of their guru-like therapist Dr Bernie Feld, but without any of the goofball shtick that fans might expect. His approach is more subtle and it needs to be, because Arnold flips out at the mere mention of sex. Carell only has to smile politely and drop the occasional clanger (using terms like 'sexercise') to get Arnold's blood up - but unfortunately for Kay, little else.
The tension between Feld and Arnold is a reliable source of amusement and Kay's reactions on the couch - going from weary to quietly desperate - are both funny and heartrending.
She is a meek character, but it's an intrepid performance from Streep and when she finally ends up on her knees, trying to get her husband's attention, it feels like a do-or-die moment.
Overall, Jones is more than a match for Streep. He conveys deep insecurity when Arnold could just as easily come across as a bully (which is what Kay accuses him of). What's frustrating is that the source of his insecurity isn't drawn out for proper examination. Streep lays herself bare, but even when his marriage looks like ending, Arnold isn't pushed to do the same.
Frankel tests the boundaries when it comes to portraying the sexual yearnings (and failings) of an older couple, but the emotional currents that lie beneath are what move the story and need just as much scrutiny. It's a shame for Jones that he isn't made to open up completely, because this is a rare turn - subverting his macho image - and he comes close to stealing the movie.
Arguably, Carell is underused, mainly in the sense that his analysis doesn't lead to any great revelations for the couple and, in the end, Arnold seems more driven by fear to try and save his marriage, rather than any newfound sense of self-awareness. Despite two great leading turns, this isn't earth-moving stuff, just a little something to tickle the fancy.