A film review by Craig J. Koban January 5, 2010

IT'S COMPLICATED jjj

2009, R, 120 mins.

Jane: Meryl Streep / Jake: Alec Baldwin / Adam: Steve Martin / Harley: John Krasinski / Agness: Lake Bell

Written and directed by Nancy Meyers 

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 dosages.   

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 blissful.   

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 honor. 

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 recently).  Martin in 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.

REVIEW ADDENDUM

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. 

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