The title of the new Nancy Meyers comedy is “It’s Complicated,” but actually, it isn’t. The movie is no more complicated than other Meyers movies such as “The Parent Trap” or “What Women Want” or “Something’s Gotta Give.” In this sitcom-ish world, nothing is so troubling that a good makeover can’t solve.
I’m somewhat more partial to “It’s Complicated” than others in the oeuvre because its cast members – specifically Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin – have such farcical panache that at times I almost convinced myself I was watching something smart. Both actors are a lot better than this material requires – or deserves.
Streep plays Jane Adler, a high-end Santa Barbara bakery owner and chef who has been divorced for 10 years from hotshot lawyer Jake (Alec Baldwin). With the last of the three kids off to college, she faces being home alone for the first time in a long time. This is not an entirely unpleasant situation for her. But at a family powwow in New York centered around the graduation of her middle child, she ends up having drinks with Jake, leading to the inevitable.
As Baldwin plays him, Jake is a rooster in full flush. He can’t conceal his ecstasy at reconnecting with his wife. Jane, on the other hand, is flummoxed by her responsiveness. She’s both flattered and miffed by his attentions. At times Jane seems to be 60 going on 20, at other times quite the reverse. She knows this affair is doomed but she can’t help herself.
Meyers, who wrote and directed, makes it easy for us to sympathize with Jake by giving him a shrewish trophy wife (Lake Bell) and bratty stepson.
She also, perhaps inadvertently, makes him shine by providing him with a colorless rival for Jane’s affections – Adam (Steve Martin), the architect who is designing an addition to her house. (Martin and Baldwin, by the way, will be cohosting the Oscars this year, so prepare yourself for lots of “It’s Complicated” ribbing.)
Except for one party scene where Jane and Adam get high on marijuana, you’d be hard-pressed to see Adam crack a goofy smile in the entire movie. Contrast this with Jake, who never stops grinning like Ferdinand the bull. Martin is trying to give a real-person performance in a movie peopled with caricatures, and, admirable as he is, he’s tonally at odds with all the cartoonish carryings on.
His presence also points up what is annoyingly superficial about “It’s Complicated.” Jane’s broken family, for one thing, is merely a backdrop to her own dithers. Her children (Zoe Kazan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, and Hunter Parish) and flibbertigibbet son-in-law (Jon Krasinski) have about as much emotional weight as Muppets. I’m not saying that Meyers should have turned her fluff pastry into “Medea,” but there’s something obnoxious about how strenuously she pushes her everything-turns-out-for-the-best chick flick fantasies. There’s a thin line between being bestowed happiness and being sold a bill of goods.
Is it worth pointing out that few movies these days cater to the romantic fantasies of women of a certain age? I suppose it is, but, again, it’s a fair bet that some of this film’s target audience may feel condescended to. Or at least it would if anybody but Streep was playing Jane.
This is now the second film in a row, after “Julie & Julia,” where Streep has spent quality time in the kitchen cooking up scrumptious eats, and her performance itself is scrumptious. In addition to being a great actress, Streep seems to flat out enjoy acting more than just anybody else around. (Baldwin here runs a close second.) It’s a dangerous talent. As “Mamma Mia!” demonstrated, it means you can get audiences to cheer you on in just about anything. Streep has the gift of making the dopey seem sharp, which makes her the perfect actress for “It’s Complicated.” Grade: B (Rated R for some drug content and sexuality.)