Saturday, November 20, 2010

IT’S COMPLICATED (2009): No, it’s a Romance Comedy

What can I say about a movie like It’s Complicated?  If you like charming romances that contain nothing but pleasant surprises for the viewer then by all means go ahead and watch it.  For those that have forgotten that Meryl Streep used to appear in much better films, this will be just one more warm and fuzzy moment for those already enthralled with the actress in such films as The Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia! and Julie and Julia.

There are only three characters that matter in this film: Meryl Streep as Jane, a wealthy and pleasant woman that runs a pastry shop and whose marriage ended when her husband ran off with another woman (that woman being half his age); Alec Baldwin as Jake, the wayward and shallow former husband of Jane who ended up marrying the younger woman; and Steve Martin as Adam, an architect hired on by Jane to build an addition to her house and who is now smitten by the wealthy gal (despite that single instance of getting high with Jane by smoking a reefer, Adam actually is mature and well adjusted) .  Unfortunately for Adam, there are “complications.”  Alec and Jane meet for dinner one evening, have a bit too much wine to drink and, after ten years separation, again find each other sharing the same bed.  Thus Jane who had earlier been forced to endure the infidelities of her husband because of the younger woman, Agness (Lake Bell), now turns the trick by sleeping with her former husband while he’s still married to Agness. 

Poor, poor Adam, who otherwise seems to be a decent if somewhat uninteresting man, realizes that Jane has still not fully gotten over her attachment to her former husband.  Jane cannot say No to Jake, even after Jake asks her if he can stay at her place at least temporarily after he has moved out on Agness.  Jake also happens to be jealous of Adam, which leads to further misunderstandings.  Jake goes so far to sabotage any future relationship between Jane and Adam that he “exposes” himself in front of an online camera during a chat session between Jane and Adam  (this to make Adam think that Jake is lying on Jane’s bed naked).  Jane’s apology to Adam notwithstanding, Adam is not sure if the two have any kind of future together.  Fortunately, we so have a happy ending.  Jane puts a stop to her relationship with Jake and is relieved to discover that Adam still wants to complete the addition to her house.

It’s Complicated is written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who seems to specialize in cute and adorable movies.  For example, she’s directed remakes of Father of the Bride and The Parent Trap.  At least two of the three leads do a decent job of acting.   (It’s hard to take Steve Martin seriously here in a role where he’s the dignified gentleman.  This was simply poor casting.)  It’s Complicated is considered to be Alec Baldwin’s best movie role in years, though I’m not so sure that’s much to boast about.  And Meryl Streep, who I always felt played essentially the same role in some excellent and depressing films, can be credited for lately expanding her repertoire with parts in more upbeat kinds of films – even if she is doing this for acting roles that in a few years will be forgotten.  It’s Complicated is exactly two hours long, which is maybe an hour more than this material requires.  Still, the movie has its humorous moments (almost all revolving around Baldwin), and the movie is at its best when it stops being too serious.  (It’s a bit difficult to take it too seriously in any case.  We have a woman looking like Meryl Streep and living in a million dollar house without having to exert herself to any degree to keep her pastry shop running.  Why wouldn’t any middle-aged man be attracted to her?)  It’s Complicated is of course predictable.  We know this film will end happily for Jane just as we know that Alec Baldwin as Jake will have to pay the price for his own lack of integrity.  We also know that the addition that Adam builds onto Jane’s house will look just wonderful.

The film has been nominated for a few non-descript categories for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards.  Since both sets of awards are so political (and usually non-descript in any case), I’m surprised that Baldwin did not actually receive a nomination for best actor or Streep receive a nomination for best actress.  Fortunately for Streep, she won the Golden Globe Award instead as best actress in a musical or comedy in Julie & Julia.  Unfortunately for the makers of It’s Complicated, the film did not win an award in any major category in the Golden Globes and in almost all likelihood will win no major categories for the Academy Awards either.

Sadly, because the show was delivered an R-rating, the movie cannot be shown to high school students that gush over Harlequin Romances.  This would probably have doubled the audience membership.  The stronger rating was not even deserved.  The adult content of It’s Complicated that probably gave it an R-rating (drug usage and brief glimpses of nudity) is no more shocking than on many television shows.  What is truly shocking is that movie audiences are charged eight to ten dollars a head to watch a film that is in almost every other respect no different than anything we can watch on network television.  (I am partially jesting when I suggest this because there are literally thousands of movies no better than anything shown Sunday evening on any of the network stations.) 

It’s Complicated is again better than most movies of its kind that are completely formulaic.  Baldwin and Streep are much more polished in their acting skills than about any other actor or actress in a film of this type.  Enjoy the film simply for what it is and watch Silkwood or The Deer Hunter if you want to see Meryl Streep in heavier roles.

February 4, 2010
©  Robert S. Miller 2010

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