Forgettable version of ‘Marriage Story’

Alan Zilberman

THE WASHINGTON POST – No actor portrays flinty, defiant intelligence better than Annette Bening. Self-possessed, often to an intense degree, her characters can seem intimidating – a quality that is on full display in the otherwise modest family drama Hope Gap.

Unfortunately, the film is a waste of her talents: a slight, yet inoffensive tale, inspiring little more than a shrug, thereby making it hard to either wholeheartedly endorse or strongly criticise.

Bening plays Grace, who lives in a sleepy seaside town with her husband of 29 years, Edward (Bill Nighy). There are clear fissures in their relationship: Edward is awkward and reserved around his wife, hiding his clear unhappiness, which leads Grace to rage. In one effective scene, she begs him to reveal something honest, even if it’s the admission that he hates her. When their adult son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) comes home for a weekend visit, Edward announces – first to Jamie, then Grace – that he has met someone new, and that he intends to leave Grace. Hope Gap follows the ensuing separation and its aftermath, with Grace in a tailspin of anger and depression.

After the initial emotion subsides, writer-director William Nicholson allows the tension to go slack, giving each of the three main characters an opportunity to talk and to listen. Both Grace and Edward have put an unfair burden on their son, forcing him to act as a go-between, and neither one seems to understand the cruelty of that imposition. Grace is resentful and self-pitying in this stretch, and although Bening’s performance keeps the drama from ever becoming maudlin, Nicholson’s dialogue never strays far from bland platitudes. When Grace hints that she might be suicidal, there’s little drama and no attempt to reckon with that threat. Instead, we watch one scene after another in which Grace simply articulates her evolving woes.

Nighy has the trickier part, with Edward torn between pity, a desire to avoid hurting Grace and the need to express his true feelings. At times, Edward’s body seems to literally shrink, as if he is embarrassed by what he has done. When he protests that Grace does not love the real him, we see what that means, physically.

Annette Bening and Bill Nighy in Hope Gap. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST