It's Complicated

January, 2010, Comedy

Directed by:Nancy Meyers

Starring:Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, and Alec Baldwin






Writer/director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give) has perfected the ingredients of a precisely-focused sub-genre of movie comedy - - the rediscovery of romantic love by white, affluent urban women, many of whom are already over, (or rapidly approaching) age 50. Meyer’s world is peopled with witty, articulate females more adept at navigating the swirling waters of society, the arts and sophisticated careers than deciphering the circumstances which find them alone at an age when they expected to be settled down, post-child raising, with the men they married so many years before. The Meyer’s heroine lives in a home girded with drop-dead décor, dresses with casual elegance and knows a good chardonnay from a knock-off, but remains dumbfounded that her ability to master all the hidden challenges to successful upper class living doesn’t include understanding why the man in her life wound up with someone else. What’s a girl to do? More importantly, is she ever going to get the chance to do it again?


The present example of Ms. Meyer’s return to this imaginary world finds Meryl Streep playing Jane, a successful businesswoman and mother of three who lives in a California dream house surrounded by bougainvillea but cluttered with memories of her marriage, which ended a decade earlier when husband Jake (Adam Baldwin) wandered off the reservation and into the arms of a much younger woman. When the college graduation of their only son brings the couple back together again, a pre-dinner drink leads to a night of passion that leaves Jane confused and Jake exuberantly believing he’s discovered the fountain of youth. In Meyer-vania of course, this budding romance quickly becomes besieged by the requisite number of obstacles sufficient to pad out a full-length film: (How to tell ones gal pals? How to keep it from the kids? How to determine if your guy’s sincere or merely enjoying the prospect of further tussles in the hay? How to deal with the new man (Steve Martin) you’re dating while trying to decide whether to keep hopping into bed with the old one?)


Material this airy is best handled by actors skilled enough to tease some recognizable credibility out of their characters while not completely succumbing to the inanities the screenplay calls for; Streep, Baldwin Martin do so with aplomb, keeping the frothy storyline buzzing along with a mixture of slapstick punctuated with often winsome observations (thanks to Meyer’s script) about the perils of growing old without a relationship to make wealthy aging both joyous and meaningful. After nearly two hours of discreetly lavish anguish, Jane does the right thing by both the men in her life and strides off into the sunset with the prospect of that most cherished of goals - -  The Happy Hollywood Ending.


All this fluff would be hard to digest were it not for Meyer’s frequently penetrating take on the importance of relationships in life, the consistent quality of the film’s technical aspects, the director’s obsessive attention to the accoutrements of the upscale lifestyle, (eat your heart out, Martha Stewart) and the ability of Meyer’s highly talented acting trio to spin occasional gold our of the plot’s dross.


As might be expected, Streep fills the screen with a protagonist so instantly recognizable and likeable that only the grimmest misanthrope would fail to cheer her on to the happiness and fulfillment the actress quickly establishes as her character’s birthright. Baldwin, (as beefy as an NFL offensive lineman) brings a beguiling naiveté to Jake, a successful attorney with the ability to justify in words whatever the situation offers to his advantage. He’s vain and self-centered, but also adrift in a second marriage that’s brought a return to squalling pre-schoolers and a much younger wife who resents his obvious enjoyment at being with his own older children. Jane’s ex isn’t a bad person, but he does bad things out of an overarching sense of self-entitlement. It’s interesting to see how Baldwin morphs Jake from clueless adulterer to rueful adulthood as he stumbles towards much-needed self-understanding. Martin’s good guy remains unfortunately bland until he goes to work on a spiv that Streep’s discovers in her vanity table – then the actor’s comedic skills bring his rather dour architect magically to life.


Given the fact that this story could only have been set in certain zip codes on the upper East Side of New York City, Chicago’s Near North Side, in Beverly Hills or the affluent bedroom communities across the bay from San Francisco, it’s interesting to wonder what lies behind the substantial audiences all across America that Meyer’s recurring examination of upper-class romantic angst has generated. Are we just as interested in the type of glamorous escapism today that was epitomized by Busby Berkely’s Depression-era fantasies? Is our much-divorced contemporary society nostalgic for that part of marriage which promises “’till death do us part”? Has Meyer’s developed a softer, less confrontational form of feminism that has “cross-over” appeal to men? Whatever the motivational impulse, audiences have flocked to this holiday offering in such large numbers that we’ll most certainly be given the opportunity to visit Meyers-land again.


The Verdict? Glittery, amusing, as expensive as a La Mer facial cosmetic… and just about that deep.  


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