Stonington still relishing its starring role

A promotional "Hope Springs" movie poster featuring Meryl Streep hangs in the window of Noah's Restaurant as Cheryl Danis, left, of the Stonington Historical Society leads a tour group Sunday along Water Street in Stonington Borough, pointing out locations used in the filming of "Hope Springs."
A promotional "Hope Springs" movie poster featuring Meryl Streep hangs in the window of Noah's Restaurant as Cheryl Danis, left, of the Stonington Historical Society leads a tour group Sunday along Water Street in Stonington Borough, pointing out locations used in the filming of "Hope Springs." Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Stonington - In "Hope Springs," the much-promoted star(s) vehicle that hit big screens last week, Stonington Borough wears more makeup than Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep combined.

But for the movie's story line, it wouldn't have needed any.

Disguised as a Maine burg in the film, the borough does itself proud, as it did Sunday during a Stonington Historical Society-hosted walking tour of shooting locations.

Cheryl Danis, a society docent, led a group of about 20 people, most of whom appeared to be members of the demographic "Hope Springs" targets. By a show of hands, a fair share indicated they had seen the movie. Their unanimous verdict? Thumbs up.

"It was delightful. The performances are excellent," Dorothy Lewis, of Norwich, said. "I haven't been in the borough in quite a while. It looks great."

Rob and Doreen Meleski, a Suffield couple with a home in Westbrook, said they'd seen the movie, too, and decided to take the tour rather than sit on the beach. At tour's end, they were pleased with their choice.

Starting from the Old Lighthouse Museum - which, by the way, does not double as Dr. Bernard Feld's "Center for Intensive Couples Counseling," as the left-over movie prop on the front lawn suggests - the group turned right on Water Street, trod Main Street, then turned left on Elm and went back down Water.

More than a half-dozen borough businesses appear in the movie, nearly all of them renamed or in some other capacity than their real one. An exception is Skipper's Dock, the restaurant where Streep's character retreats after a particularly wrenching session with Dr. Feld, the couples counselor played by Steve Carell.

"They liked the name so they kept it," Danis said of the filmmakers. "They thought it sounded like Maine."

Noah's, the restaurant turned into the Nor'easter Diner for the movie, sported a "Hope Springs" poster in a window and a mural painted on its exterior for the film.

"It took them less than a day to paint it," Danis said.

Inside, the walls were adorned with the framed prints that had been replaced by tacky lobster props.

Danis dispensed movie-making tidbits as the group walked.

Ever wonder why a relatively low budget project like "Hope Springs" costs millions of dollars to produce?

"They shot here at the end of September and into October, and the leaves hadn't turned yet," Danis said. "Well, the movie was set in the fall, so they imported leaves from upstate New York and blew them around."

Danis said she learned while observing the production-in-progress that members of film crews have highly specialized roles. Only the director, the head of production and the actors' stand-ins could speak to Jones and Streep, she said.

The stars, Danis said, were little seen in the borough for the most part.

"Tommy Lee was spotted in the post office," she said. "Grumpy, like he wanted to be in character. Or maybe that's the way he always is."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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