‘Hope Gap’: A close look at marital challenge

"Hope Gap" is a film about the final stages of a marriage.

"Hope Gap" is a film about the final stages of a marriage.

Origin Pictures/ Contributed photo

I love watching Annette Bening, on any screen.

This luminous actress continues to challenge herself by playing complex women in one compelling film after another. Rarely does she let her personality carry her through a role. Instead, she approaches her craft with a focus that can yield interesting results. On stage and screen, she continues to reveal new layers of her ever-developing talent.

Bening’s new film - “Hope Gap” - may have missed its opportunity to play in movie theaters this spring but now shines, instead, on the streaming screen at home. This captivating look at the final stages of a marriage gives Bening one more chance to tear into a layered character with an actor’s hunger to discover truth. Working with lovely words from playwright William Nicholson, “Hope Gap” Bening reminds us that, no matter how familiar can actor may become over the years, how that actor pursues a part can produce many chances to surprise.

The twice Oscar-nominated Nicholson, best known for his stage and screen drama “Shadowlands,” returns to the dynamics of family relationships as he studies the reactions of an immediate family to an immediate divorce. After 29 years, a seemingly mild-mannered and selfless teacher announces to his wife and grown son that he is abruptly leaving the family to live with a new woman in his life. How these people react to this change, and what roles the change casts them to play, gives the film its narrative urgency.

For the wife, portrayed by Bening, the first days that follow the husband’s declaration are filled with the anger and anxiety we have seen on screen before, as she tries to reason her way through her husband’s decision. The film then takes interesting routes to continue tracking how the wife maneuvers through her rage while also following how the son deals with his new role as the stable one in the family. The separation of parents places this man in the crossfire of their accusations, threatening to make him the ultimate victim.

While filmmakers often explore such tensions, “Hope Gap” benefits from Nicholson’s balanced view of the rights and wrongs in this household. He resists any temptation to take sides as he reveals, in detail, each person’s flaws and the resulting scar tissue that now makes it impossible for these people to connect. Nicholson offers a unique view of how parents, when focused on themselves, can overlook the challenges they thrust on their grown children.

More Information
Film Nutritional Value: Hope Gap

Content: High. This look at the ways people in a family can hurt each other reminds how fragile relationships can be.

Entertainment: High. Thanks to a strong cast, and an insightful script, the film has quite a bit to say about what it takes to work through change. At any age.

Message: Medium. While the film entertains, especially with Bening's performance, we are left with a clear sense of the respect families need to share.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to introduce older children to issues of choice and disappointment can be a welcome visit to the movies.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older children, talk with them about the consequences of these decisions.

For Bening, “Hope Gap” lets us see, again, how versatile and commanding she can be when given such rich roles to play. Watching her search for the reasons for this woman’s behavior, and the obstacles to her moving forward, makes this journey sing. Bening never tries to make us feel sorry for this woman; instead, her portrayal makes us want to take a clear look at how people can cope with devastating change.

Thank goodness that streaming services now give a film as special as “Hope Gap” a platform to be seen.

“Hope Gap” is rated PG-13 for “some thematic elements and brief strong language”. It is available to stream on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime. The film runs 1 hour, 40 minutes.