In the critically acclaimed box-office hit, the Hollywood actress and three-time Oscar winner, 63, and Tommy Lee Jones, 65, play Kay and Arnold Soames, a middle-class couple from Nebraska attempting to breathe new life into their 31-year marriage. Together, they head to Maine to talk to a renowned counselor about their hopes, fears and frustrations, as well as why they fell in love and how they drifted apart.
During a recent roundtable interview with reporters in New York, Steve Carell, who plays the marriage counselor, said the contemporary dramedy's long, talky scenes in his on-screen therapist's office felt to him almost like they were one-act plays.
Asked in a separate group chat if he agreed with Carell's description of those alternately touching and hilarious therapy sessions, Jones told United Press International, "That's not a bad analogy."
"They were kind of like one-act plays or set pieces," said Jones, who has been married in real life for 11 years to his third wife.
"Yeah. It's sort of drama pared down absolutely to the bare bones," added Streep, who was sitting beside Jones.
"Actors will often tell you their favorite thing is the first reading of a play and then you spend the next three weeks trying to get back to -- 'why was it so great that first day?' Because you're just encountering each other and the material and it's all discovered and then as you work on it more and more and more, some kind of magic goes away," Streep explained. "But what we did with those [therapy] scenes -- we were more or less shooting in chronological order -- we had no time to rehearse, so we were sort of in it as you're watching. You're really watching this happen and that was kind of great. That was thrilling."
In the movie, Carell's Dr. Bernie Feld admitted to Kay and Arnold some couples never should have gotten married, but he emphasized they're not like that and it's possible for them to resolve their issues if they are both willing to work on them.
"What I loved about the screenplay was there is a moment where you -- even knowing that [they love each other] -- you didn't really know how it was going to go," Streep, who wed sculptor Don Gummer in 1978, told UPI. "There was a moment where you think, 'This thing really could break off.' I like that you didn't really know how or where it was going to go."
Carell, who has been married to comic actress Nancy Walls for 17 years, said the film's subject got him thinking generally about what makes marriages work.
"I'm hoping that's what people respond to. I think it's a very honest depiction of marriage," Carell, 49, told UPI. "Apart from the fact I'd be with these great actors, I thought the script was excellent and very truthful and very honest and real."
So, does Carell think the movie will get people talking?
"That would be great," he replied. "You never know how it's going to resonate, but that would be great if they did."
Pressed by a journalist to divulge whether she sees any elements of her real-life marriage in her character's relationship in the movie, Streep laughed and said: "Oh, yeah, I'd love to talk about that. Let's go into that."