It’s Complicated

 It’s Complicated | rated PG-13 | starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, Lake Bell, John Krasinski | written & directed by Nancy Meyers | 2:00 mins

*Minor Thematic Spoilers* 

Divorced for 10 years, still single Jane (Meryl Streep) and remarried Jake (Alec Baldwin) Adler reunite at their son’s graduation and after a lonely, drunken night together, they begin an affair. Jake is ecstatic, Jane feels guilty but can’t stop. Guilt that is even further complicated by the arrival of an architect (Steve Martin) with his eye on Jane.

With It’s Complicated, writer/director Nancy Myers dares to make an adult, sophisticated movie about relationships later in life. It’s a project only Meryl Streep could sign on to greenlight. And darn it. Even if I don’t think it all works, I have to admire the attempt at authentic sentimentality and the resistance to romantic comedy convention of it all.

After hearing from person after person that this movie was the most refreshingly funny thing around, it eventually found its way into my blu-ray player where I got over my hesitance to see a movie that sounds like it was titled after every sitcom female character’s answer to the question “How’s your love life?”.  What I did not put together until one of the movie’s two insufferably cliche scenes where Streep and her gal pals (May Kay Place, Rita Wilson and Alexandra Wentworth) sit around and talk about sex is that everyone who told me this was part of the movie’s very specific age/gender demographic. The appeal of It’s Complicated is narrow cast to pretty much only people who can relate to it (thus looking past it’s deep flaws). And while I’m the exact opposite of this demographic I like a movie that doesn’t try to appeal to everyone.

What I did appreciate about it: I like a movie that feels lived in and this movie does a great job of establishing it’s very real universe. The movie is nicely leisurely pace, it isn’t rushed. It does a good job of establishing the characters, family dynamic, the house as a home and taking us through gorgeous California scenery. There is even a nice extended date between Streep and Martin that goes well in a rare resistance of bad date rom-com hijinks. The mood established is just right.

The movie is a wine-swilling girls club that probably would have been taken as ghastly if done as a Sex and the City sequel. Myers pulls in every excuse she can to justify Jane’s committing adultery, namely that she was cheated on in the past by her husband, putting all blame on the other woman, while seemingly ignoring the fact that she is rewarding the man who cheated on her in the first place. On the other hand, Baldwin’s wife (hot Lake Bell) is a shrew so the movie sets her up to “deserve it” which undermines what would have been the moral quandary of the whole damn thing. I’m tempted to muse on the cinematic double standard to forgive or even play for laughs female infidelity, but Complicated is constantly doubling back and softening on what exactly is so complicated about the situation that it’s hard to argue with.

Which leads to my one of the chief reasons the movie doesn’t work for me. All of this is based on dramatic events that happened 10 years prior that we are given no insight to. Streep was cheated on. The divorce was terrible. Dad wasn’t even let in the house. The kids are still getting over it. This is all spoken of in past tense and those with similar personal histories are expected to relate, but the movie itself does not (forget properly, at all) set up this with any dramatic backstory. Then, these spoken of events are contradicted by the ultimate thesis of the movie in which Streep explains to her kids that when you get divorced you still have lingering doubts and unresolved feelings toward your ex. Really? While that may be true at times, it seems a shoe-horned explanation in this story. It’s a mind-bender; completely and totally reliant on the audience to go “that is SO me” and ignore the mass thematic confusion. This isn’t an internet critic nit-pick, these are major plot points that contradict themselves.

Myers can’t quit nail down what she wants the movie to be. Reaching a little bit for everything and leaving all the burners luke-warm. At times a drama that is never serious enough to fully click as one. At times a comedy that isn’t funny or have any identifiable jokes. At times even reaching for a really gutsy late-age sex comedy. Alec Baldwin is in the same zany mode we’ve seen him in everything since his “30 Rock” career resurgence, at one point hiding in the bushes peaking through the window, at another point setting up an awkward comedy-of-errors nude scene out of Frasier. That’s the only scene that seems to be played for laughs. Martin on the other hand plays it completely straight. Those expecting the laughs to finally pick up with his arrival will be shocked to find him schlepping around in the role of the sad sack divorcee. Martin ultimately comes out giving the best and most fully grounded performance in the film. Again, good work here, but not funny.

The movie almost won me back at the end. I appreciated greatly that it did not try to force through the traditional romantic comedy ending, but instead gave us something more real. It’s Complicated can’t stir up an emotion to save it’s life, and paramount among it all is that it isn’t funny, but it doesn’t insult the intelligence, it’s ideas are muddled, the script sloppy but in the grand scheme of romantic comedies, that is a step up.

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