After 30 years of marriage, lonely and apparently undesired Kay (Streep) signs up for a week of couple counselling with relationship expert Dr. Feld (Carell), much to the disgust of husband Arnold (Jones), who certainly does not want to get in touch with his feelings.
Jones’ Arnold sleeps in a separate bedroom and determinedly displays no interest when his hopeful wife nervously swishes in dolled up in a negligée. He eats the meals she puts in front of him and spends evenings watching the Golf Channel. His idea of an appropriate anniversary present is a kitchen utensil. Arnold is, of course, an accountant. (Is there any other profession so maligned in comedy?) It’s clear that Streep’s wistful Kay unaccountably still loves Arnold, even as she serves him and restlessly observes his unchanging routine. The only reason he accompanies her to a twee New England town for a week with relationship consellor Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell) seems to be his fear Kay might actually leave him to cook and launder for himself.
The body language alone is genius. Streep’s blushing, fumbling and mystification tells us as much as her dialogue about Kay’s innocence and frustration; every nerve fibre in Jones’ postures shrieks this is a man who does not want to explore his fear of intimacy or do his ‘sexercises’.
As they dutifully make an effort comes the jaw-dropping spectacle of Streep simulating oral sex on her popcorn-munching husband in a cinema and being grappled over the kitchen sink. But a breakdown-confrontation-confession scene is as dramatically intense and intimately real as anything in Bergman.
Brief roles are nicely cast — Jean Smart, Elisabeth Shue, Mimi Rogers — but it’s very much a threesome, with Carell’s psychologist keeping a just slightly concerned poker face as he unearths all kinds of dismaying revelations from the couple. Streep and Jones, exposing their characters with 1,001 nuances, are heroic. It might not be a total stretch for Jones to play a crusty grouch, but it takes balls to play this one.
Very funny, it’s also penetrating on the ravages of time on love and marriage and sweetly touching, but with abundantly incongruous randy content to heartily amuse.
Reviewed by Angie Errigo