Written and Directed by Nancy Meyers
Starring – Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan
There are so many ways this movie could have turned out so wrong in so many ways. As it is, it plays like kind of like the ultimate middle age woman revenge fantasy. You know, the kind where no one gets hurt except for the woman who took your husband. Meryl Streep is Jane Adler, a divorced middle-aged woman who has a beautiful house, a beautiful and bountiful garden and a beautiful big bakery that she owns. The fact that you rarely see her in the bakery or the garden does not matter. These things seemingly take care of themselves. In the effort to remodel her house, she meets a very nice, yet nondescript man named Adam Schaffer (Martin). The fact that she forgets that she met him once before should be a clue.
Her successful attorney ex-husband, Jake (Baldwin), is now stuck with the woman he cheated on her with. This woman left Jake, had a child with another man, and then came back. Then they got married. It’s a classic courtship, really.
Her kids are about what you would expect in a movie where the middle-aged protagonists are the focus. They are pleasant, bland, and slightly out of focus.
In some sublime celebration of the graduation of their son from St. John’s, everyone rents a room in the same hotel. Fortuitously, or not, Jake’s wife could not make his son’s big event, and through happenstance, the old, divorced couple ends up together at the bar. One thing leads delightfully to another and the next thing you know, they end up in Jake’s suite.
From here, Jane bounces back and forth between her ex, her forgettable new beau, her therapist and others, fretting about what she should do. Enjoying each moment, then fretting about it, then enjoying another moment. Like I said, in the wrong hands, this plot is a disaster.
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, with Streep, Martin and Baldwin, the material is given a grit and a shine that it doesn’t entirely deserve. Had, say, Julia Roberts, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt starred in this, the result would have been different. To say the least.
This hot streak that Streep is on is truly magnificent. Her choices since 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada have been a lot of fun. Mamma Mia, Julie & Julia, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and now this. Sure, she still does the occasional dour, boring as hell drama. This lighter stuff is given the heft of her acting ability, and she is given the reason to smile. It’s win-win.
For his part, Steve Martin is perfect for the role of nice guy. He plays the part of likable sap with aplomb. When his character is allowed to “light up,” he is brought back to his “wild and crazy” ways in a way serviceable to the plot.
Baldwin, sleazy and lovable as ever, has put his years on 30 Rock to good use. He approaches his affair with Streep with a flair rarely seen in movies. He relishes it, and explains, in fairly reasonable terms, why it works for him and should work for her, too.
“And I like that you stopped getting bikini waxes. You’ve gone native. I was into it!”
There is a concern, in a movie where the vows of matrimony are a punchline, that one can lose the fact that something sacred is being broken, time and again. That is where having Streep around helps. Her every move is deliberate, agonized and enjoyed to the fullest extent. It takes one like Nancy Meyers to find the right person to cast in a movie like this, and she has been on a roll herself lately.
Among my favorite scenes, John Krasinski makes a great unwilling witness to the shenanigans of Streep and Baldwin. Speaking of unwilling witness, scene where Baldwin shows the whole parade to Martin over the laptop should rank as an American movie landmark scene for years to come.
It’s Complicated should have been a horrible experience for anyone who views marriage as a sacred institution. On its face, the concept is appalling. Thing is, the filmmakers are so good at accomplishing their goals here that the craft has to be appreciated, even if the message is not one that would normally be appreciated.
Meryl Streep has been married to the same man since 1978. In that time she has made many good films. In my opinion, many of these “good” films have been too dour to be enjoyable (i.e. – Doubt, Kramer vs. Kramer, Cry In The Dark, Out of Africa, etc. ). It is obvious from the range of her material, she treats acting as a job, and not an extension of her beliefs. For years, I avoided her work like the plague (or Woody Allen). I might take a trip back, through that work again. Not today, but one day.
(***1/2 out of *****)