Director : Nancy Meyers
Screenplay : Nancy Meyers
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Meryl Streep (Jane), Steve Martin (Adam), Alec Baldwin (Jake), John Krasinski (Harley), Lake Bell (Agness), Mary Kay Place (Joanne), Rita Wilson (Trisha), Alexandra Wentworth (Diane), Hunter Parrish (Luke), Zoe Kazan (Gabby), Caitlin Fitzgerald (Lauren), Emjay Anthony (Pedro), Nora Dunn (Sally)
It’s Complicated, Nancy Meyers’ posh new entry in her cottage industry of middle-age romantic comedies, suffers a particularly intense form of conspicuous consumption, a common malady that strikes many mainstream studio films of all genres, but especially Meyers’ films, including her previous efforts Something’s Got to Give (2003) and The Holiday (2006) (just to give you some idea: the house sets for Something’s Got to Give were featured in an issue of Architectural Digest). While It’s Complicated is ostensibly about a likeable woman in her mid-50s who embarks on a potentially disastrous affair with her ex-husband while also being courted by a kind-hearted architect, it is really about the lavish upper-class digs where the characters mix and mingle, which are resplendent with Pottery Barn charm and massive stainless steel appliances and aired with casual mentions of European vacations, anniversary cruises, and stays at the Four Seasons. In this regard, the film, while positioned as counterprogramming to typical Hollywood fare, is just as much of a high-concept conceit as any FX-addled sci-fi romp. The only difference is the target demographic.
Copious depictions of wealth are, of course, nothing new to American cinema; in fact, one of the primary reasons audiences turned out for movies during the Depression was to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers waltzing their way through spacious art deco wonderment. So, especially given the current recession, is it any wonder that audiences today would desire widescreen images of Meryl Streep fretting about her relationship issues amidst the casual elegance of her perfectly designed Southern California abode? Yet, I can’t help but feel that there is something fundamentally different about films of the classical era, specifically the fact that they clearly took place in a fantasy realm (Ernest Lubitsch’s stylish romantic comedies, for example, were inflected with such comical debonair decadence that you couldn’t possibly take them seriously). Meyers’ film, on the other hand (and many like it), is presented as an everyday slice of typical Americana, suggesting that it is perfectly normal to live alone in a massive Santa Barbara estate with a garden worthy of a magazine cover and still feel the itch for that “perfect” kitchen, even if the one you already have would be the envy of 99% of the population.
Luckily, Meyers has assembled a talented cast and set them loose in a story with enough humor and recognizable emotional hooks to make the film into something more than a style catalog--if only barely. Streep, whose performative flexibility continues to inspire awe, stars as Jane, a wonderfully talented and personable baker/restaurateur with three wonderful, loving, and impeccably groomed grown children (the youngest graduates from college at the beginning of the film). Jane’s only problem is that her husband Jake (Alec Baldwin) left her 10 years earlier for a younger woman (Lake Bell), an event that she has never quite been able to shake. It is hard to imagine why Jake would have left her, a question that he has never satisfactorily answered himself, especially since his second wife, despite having a Sports Illustrated-ready swimsuit body, has turned out to be a shrew. Thus, when he and Jane share a night of drinks and dancing at a bar during their son’s graduation, things quickly turn hot and heavy, leading to an affair that rekindles old feelings and sparks new dreams (in Jake, at least) of reconnecting for good.
As the title suggests, the situation is plenty complicated, not only because of the inherent weirdness of carrying on an extramarital affair with your ex-spouse, but also because Jane is on the cusp of becoming involved with Adam (Steve Martin), the architect who is designing an addition to her house. Adam is getting over his own divorce, which happened two and a half years earlier, but still hurts enough that he listens to self-help tapes about divorce recovery in his car. Adam is a gentle, tender soul, every bit the opposite of Jake’s aggressive, alpha-dog tenacity, and Jane is torn in the middle. Well, “torn” isn’t exactly the right word since Meyers clearly wants her intended audience (women of “a certain age” for whom very, very few movies are made) to relish Jane’s being pursued by two different men while also getting silent revenge on “the other woman” by becoming “the other woman” herself. In this regard, the film is clearly a thematic companion piece to Something’s Got to Give, articulating in no uncertain terms that women are fine wine and men are generally too myopic to realize it.
When It’s Complicated works, it is light and breezy and diverting enough to be genuinely fun. Some of the film’s best moments belong to The Office’s John Krasinski as Jane’s future son-in-law who is comically burdened with knowledge about Jane and Jake’s affair, although the film’s biggest laughs come courtesy of Alec Baldwin, who is so adept at playing the self-centered cad who you can’t help but like. His Jake is all hammy bluster and cock-of-the-walk ego, but Baldwin gives him just enough of a heart beneath all those layers of smarmy charm (not to mention well-fed flesh) that you can feel his pain when he’s been bossed around by his atrocious new wife and her bratty five-year-old son even as you recognize the karmic perfection of his self-created punishment. Baldwin’s scenes with Streep have zest and energy, and the aftermath of their heated sexual encounters is both hilarious and endearing. Meyers has a finger firmly planted on the pulse of what makes people in the middle of their lives tick, although it would help if she didn’t make her characters work so hard to get out from under all of that enviable production design that is intended to send you straight from the theater to the nearest Restoration Hardware.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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