It would be hard for a film starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin to not be entertaining, but critics complained that It's Complicated is just an unrealistic "fem fantasy" about conspicuous consumption and revenge against philandering husbands.
The film, which opens tomorrow, stars Meryl Streep as Jane, the owner of a successful Santa Barbara bakery/restaurant and an absurdly gorgeous home. (Time described the film as a "live-action edition of Martha Stewart Living.) Ten years ago, her husband Jake (Alec Baldwin), left her for Agnes (Lake Bell), a stereotypical younger, bitchy supermodel-type. Jane and Jake have three grown children (Caitlin Fitzgerald, Hunter Parrish, and Zoe Kazan), and when they reunite to celebrate the graduation of their middle child from college they wind up having a drunken tryst that grows into a full-blown affair. Though reviewers said the situation isn't really all that complicated, Jake and Jane's rekindled relationship sparks some fluffy humor when they smoke marijuana together for the first time in years, their daughter's fiancé (John Krazinski) spots them during a hotel rendez-vous, and Jane's sweet but unexciting architect (Steve Martin) begins pursuing her.
Earlier, we addressed the controversy over the "decorator porn" presented in the film, but some critics also accused director/writer Nancy Meyers (who specializes in movie fantasies about rich people who can't seem to get their personal lives together like The Holiday and Something's Gotta Give) of hating women. Jane is a "highly strung, self-pitying, sex-starved nag defined expressly by the men in (or out of) her life, despite her resolve to be an independent woman," and rather than being the charming rogue portrayed in the trailer, Jake is "so odious that the affair makes little sense." The film is funny at times but not hilarious, and you won't find many deep observations about infidelity or middle-age. It may be the film equivalent of flipping through the Williams-Sonoma catalog while watching a Jack-centric episode of 30 Rock, but there are worse ways to spend an evening. Below, the reviews.
It's Complicated is middle-aged porn, the specialty of Meyers, who also set ladies and interior decorators drooling over homes and gardens in 2006's The Holiday. Specifically, the movie is middle-aged femme porn. Not that there's anything wrong with that, au contraire, but let's understand one another: This is a fantasy about a triumphant ex-wife desired all over again by her ex-husband. And for icing on the gâteau, she's admired by a second cute, successful, eligible man, too-played by Steve Martin, no less! This is the stuff of Santa Barbara book-group literature.
People over 50 talking about sex and - yikes! - having it! Welcome to It's Complicated, a romcom that qualifies as a waking nightmare for teens and infantile men whose definition of "hot" hovers around jailbait. Screw them.
The writer-director's rickety portrait of middle-aged loneliness, regret and self-consciousness is propped up by Streep and Baldwin's natural love-hate chemistry and joint refusal to succumb to slapsticky ridiculousness. Nonetheless, a greater focus on off-the-wall humor would have benefited Martin, who's shamefully saddled with being the plot's perfunctory third wheel. More mirth and less tear-streaked schmaltz might have alleviated the tale's dramedy dawdling, as Meyers goes to such unnecessary lengths to craft allegedly complex protagonists that the comedy soon goes down like lead.
Cute and clever though the plot may be, everything is played out in the broadest possible terms without an iota of nuance or subtlety. Characters rip, snort and holler, or at least make faces, in reaction to the slightest provocation — no one more so than Streep, who guffaws, slaps her hands together and otherwise gesticulates with amazed glee far, far more than called for by events. Charming and wonderful though her character may be, she carries pleasure with herself to an uncomfortable extreme, a trait exacerbated by Jake's pages of dialogue extolling her outright amazingness... So it mostly falls to Baldwin, who, despite all the fawning dialogue, has a blast as the paunchy, graying hound-dog and enthusiastically shares his good times with the audience. More than once, he strips down for action to shamelessly reveal his middle-age bulk (Streep shares these scenes but is more discreet), and the thesp's comic timing is on the money.
Does Nancy Meyers hate women? The thought ran through my head not very long into It's Complicated, Meyers's biennial stocking-stuffer about the romantic trials and tribulations of obscenely privileged and narcissistic Southern Californians... [Streep's character] is also, like most of the female protagonists in Meyers's films, a highly strung, self-pitying, sex-starved nag defined expressly by the men in (or out of) her life, despite her resolve to be an independent woman. It's complicated, indeed. Not that Meyers-a global brand whose films have surpassed $1 billion at the worldwide box office-is particularly more charitable (or honest) when it comes to her male characters, who are on hand mainly to act like pigs, usually by ignoring radiant women of their own age in favor of hot-to-trot chippies, only to belatedly realize how good they had it in the first place.
Jake, who seems like such a cheery rogue in all the film's trailers, is so odious that the affair makes little sense. It's not Baldwin's fault; he's good at being bad, and Jake's awfulness does lend itself to comedy of the oh-no-he-didn't variety. "Home!" Jake proclaims, as he lies in bed with Jane after their first sexual encounter in a decade. This would be sweet, if he weren't saying it as he's clapping his hand over her groin with all the subtlety of a baseball player adjusting his cup. It's almost as if her womanhood was chattel he mislaid and is now reclaiming. I'd hazard a guess that the last time Jake looked this pleased with himself, he was at his mother's teat.
But there's something disturbingly passive-aggressive and belittling about Jane's attitude toward Jake. We just love our immature doofuses, don't we, girls, she seems to say, beaming brightly, even when they refuse to grow up? In fact, when it comes to moral confusion Jane is the worst offender. In what passes for wising up, she tells her children that she and Jake "don't fit together any more." Never mind that he's married, with one young child and - fertility clinic willing - another to come.
The film makes a few incisive observations about divorce and midlife sexuality, peppered with mildly dark humor. But it stops short of being revelatory and lacks clever banter. With sharp comic talents like Streep, Baldwin and Martin, you would expect something funnier, edgier and smarter. Streep acts flustered, Baldwin's dialogue are variations of "hubba hubba" and Martin is the quintessential nice guy.
Even with Streep and Baldwin's drunken-debauchery scene, the first half of the movie is deadly dull, lingering scenes of uninteresting chatter, lame coincidental meetings between Jane and Jake, and annoying girl-talk sessions among Jane and her pals (Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson and Alexandra Wentworth). It's Complicated stutter-steps to life now and then, particularly during Jane and Adam's date on a good marijuana buzz. Mostly, though, Meyers lets her stars mince about to varying effect. In Streep's case, that may be enough on its own to justify the price of a ticket. In Martin's case, it's not so bad seeing him play the nice, normal, low-key guy for a change. In Baldwin's case, it's a tossup. Sometimes he's funny as he jealously stalks Jane, other times he mugs along in a toothless imitation of the overbearing self-absorption he does so well on 30 Rock.
Though Meyers soft-pedals the betrayal part of their affair-the scene where Martin discovers the truth is so misconceived, it nearly ruins the film-Streep and Baldwin get the illicit thrill of it just right. There's something old and something new in their time together, a sense of falling into familiar rhythms while also discovering each other for the first time. Baldwin, importing his devilish grin from 30 Rock, proves very persuasive, and Streep, as a sensualist by trade, can't help but be persuaded. Her milquetoast relationship with Martin is less convincing, because what she gains in comfort, she loses in spark. It's Complicated is the sort of "mature" character piece the French do regularly and better (and without the need for quotation marks around "mature"), but the cast at least helps relieve some of the tidiness that belies the title.