A film review by Craig J. Koban January 5, 2010
2009, R, 120 mins.
2009, R, 120 mins.
Jane: Meryl Streep / Jake: Alec Baldwin / Adam: Steve
Martin / Harley: John Krasinski / Agness: Lake Bell
|There is nothing
altogether complicated about IT’S COMPLICATED; it takes the
standard trappings of the classic, love triangle formula from the romcom
playbook (granted, with a few modest twists here and there); it has an
agreeably feisty and funny script; it is quarterbacked by Nancy Myers, who
has all but solidified herself as being an secure journeyman-like
filmmaker when it comes to this genre; and it has three limitlessly
appealing actors in fine form that all find a decent balance between
heartfelt sentiment and cheeky guffaws.
IT’S COMPLICATED does not desire to rewrite the romcom playbook:
this is film for people with modest expectations that they can digest in easy
Yet, if there were one angle
to Myers’ film that I do find enthusiastically off-kilter then it would
be its characters. Far too
many recent romcoms have largely been geared for adolescent consumption;
there’s simply not enough examples out there featuring older adults for
older adult viewers, and that’s where I think Myers’ films have a
unique prerogative. This film
and her last, the very decent SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE with Diane Keaton
and Jack Nicholson, have sort of started their own niche romcom: movies
about pleasurable, but deeply flawed and neurotic, middle aged people that
suffer through their romantic foibles.
I also like the fact that her female main characters are
self-reliant, intelligent, and genuinely nice people that you want to root
on to starry-eyed victory. That’s
where most of the charm from dramadies originates: quite simply, if you like
these people, you invest in them and want them to be
The script for IT’S
COMPLICATED contains one of the strangest adulterous flings I’ve seen in
a mainstream film, which, again, is a source of the film’s offbeat
appeal. Jane Adler (a
positively glowing Meryl Streep, who can play comedy as well as she can
drama) is a divorcée that runs a very lucrative Santa Barbara bakery.
She’s wealthy, has a lavish home that she is about to expand, has
three loving, grown up children, and, most importantly, she has a very
healthy relationship with he ex, Jake (Alec Baldwin, oozing
scene-stealing, goofball charm and sarcastic wit as he does on TV’s 30
ROCK), a very successful attorney. During
the opening of the film we see Jane at an outdoor party where she runs
into Jake…and his ridiculously younger and voluptuous trophy
wife, Agness (Lake Bell). Even
though Jane is a self-actualized businesswoman and a pillar of financial
and emotional confidence, even she has a hard time dealing with the
sculpted midriff and ample, gravity defying bosom of Jack’s second spouse.
Nonetheless, Jake and Jane have been amicable for nearly ten after
their break up and divorce, even though Agness' picturesque beauty and
youth annoys Jane to no end.
Things start to get a little…uh…complicated for Jane and Jake.
Both of them find themselves attending their youngest son’s
college graduation, which is not so much of an issue, but they also find
themselves staying at the same hotel.
One evening Jane decides to dress up and go for a night out at the
hotel pub where she happens to bump into Jake and sparks do indeed start
to fly (this may be the only “meet cute” in film history between two
people that are not only not strangers to one another, but also have been
previously married). It
becomes clear that the pair still have a sort of unspecified chemistry
with one another even years after their break up; they get along winningly
and are almost able to finish off each other’s sentences.
After several drinks and dances, the inebriated pair go back up to
Jane’s room and…well…fill in the blank.
A whirlwind of complex
emotions comes over Jane: She realizes that, yes, she has just
started an affair with her own ex-husband, but even weirder is that…she
kind of likes it. Equally
compelling is that Jake is borderline hyperactive about it all.
He has a drop-dead gorgeous babe of a wife at home, to be sure, but
even her curvaceous allure does not arouse him quite like the visage of
his older, chubbier, and more emotionally mature ex-wife.
I liked the capricious enthusiasm and euphoric glow that permeates
the love scenes between Baldwin and Streep; most crucially, I also admired
how this film goes out of its way to acknowledge that both Baldwin and
Streep – although attractive people for their respective 60 and 51 years
– are not flawlessly gorgeous people anymore as they were in their
prime. This is a rare romcom
where the lovers really let their flab hang out like a hilarious badge of
Things start to get...uh…complicated-er
when Jane and Jake try to keep their fling a secret from their kids, but
also when Jane meets Adam (a wonderfully understated and quietly disarming
Steve Martin) an architect whose firm has been hired to oversee her new
house additions. Adam is an awfully
nice man, so nice that he has read through all of Jane’s 40-plus
emails of instructions to his firm about specifics of what she wants with
her renovations. Adam is a
lonely, but well-adjusted divorcée as well, and the more time he spends
with Jane the more he begins to fall for her.
However, he clearly notates that something is still going on
between her and her ex, while Jake, on the other hand, does not like the
middle-aged competition moving in on the new – make that renewed
– love of his life.
Many people have criticized
that IT’S COMPLICATED is a lame wish fulfillment love fantasy for old
people (a middle aged woman once again becomes the object of intense
affection from two male suitors). That’s
a criticism? Really?
That’s a inane double standard, seeing as so many romcoms with
young protagonists rarely get browbeat with the same disapproval.
Part of the droll vivacity of IT’S COMPLICATED is that – gasp!
– it’s a film about fiftysomethings going on sixtysomethings
talking about intercourse…and then having it…a lot.
I especially liked how Baldwin - a taskmaster when it comes to
shrewd comic delivery - sheds away any pretence of ego here.
He had a young career of playing hunky and macho leading men heroes
that woman swooned over, and now in IT’S COMPLICATED his youthful
leading man attitude has remained, but his body is desperately
trying to catch up.
The performances between the
three leads are kind of thankless; They play their roles straight,
never over-telegraph the humor or drama, and they all have a sort of an
unforced chemistry. Streep is
a feisty delight here, and although she does not have her porcelain beauty
from 30 years ago, her childlike spirit is infectious.
Ditto for Baldwin, who has recently carved out a fantastic,
career-changing niche for himself
as one of the most dependable comedic characters actors around (not too
many dramatic actors have made such a triumph segue to comedy as he has
particular is a welcome surprise, and it's nice to see him play a nice,
reserved, and cautious suitor (this may be his apology for THE
PINK PANTHER 2). Also
very good is John Krasinski (whom I greatly admired in AWAY
WE GO) who plays Jane’s son-in-law that has a bit too much information
about her adulterous ways. He
shows here how to give a reaction with just the right uproarious refinement.
Meyers does a good job as well
of balancing the film’s cheeky humor with its quieter and more
delicately introspective moments. There
is a funny moment with Baldwin – after his first night of adulterous sex
with Jane – as he pats a naughty area of Jane’s anatomy like a dog
that has performed a trick well. He
also occupies a scene later where he tries to sneak himself and Jane into
a hotel for a quickie, much to the astonishment of their son-in-law.
Then there is a predictable, but very hilarious, moment where Jake
and Adam have a very, very ill timed web chat.
Matched with those funny scenes are ones that have a real emotional
veracity, such as one sublime montage where Streep and Martin bake
chocolate croissants that is pure perfection and a late scene where
Baldwin and Streep share a tender and brutally honest moment as they
mutually discuss why their fling may be both the best and worst
thing in their respective lives.
Not all of IT’S COMPLICATED works: The film had just the right ending (you’ll know it when you see it) that could have been more ambiguously satisfying (instead, it adds a tacked on conclusion where it all but tells you whom Jane will be with). The film is also mournfully too long at 120 minutes. Furthermore, Jake and Jane’s kids are two one-sidedly drawn and dull (not to mention that they seem far too squeaky clean and adjusted as a post-divorce family unit). Lastly, there are some forced jokes that seem too mechanically executed (an extended sequence with Jane and Adam stoned at one of her children’s party is not as funny as the film thinks it is), not to mention that a few sequences with Jane and her female friends are from chick flick hell (do middle aged women really stand up, scream and cheer when one of them reveals their participation in an adulterous affair?). Yet, I liked the adult tone and focus of IT’S COMPLICATED, the decent and reliable performances, and the way that Streep, Martin, and Baldwin have fun with their roles without hamming it up to teeth-grating levels. These old dogs punctuate this romcom with a young at heart effervescence....and it shows.
IT’S COMPLICATED was
inexplicably rated R by the MPAA for - get a load of this - “some drug
content and sexuality.” Pllleeeaaasse.
The film contains no hard core nudity, no simulated sex, no foul, F-bomb
riddled dialogue, no gory violence…only a silly sequence involving
pot smoking and many involving pre-geriatrics talking about hanky-panky.
The Canadian Film ratings gave it a “PG” for “sexual language
and drug use.” Oh Canada, that’s
more like it.