‘Com­pli­cated’ doesn’t equal com­plex — or re­al­is­tic

> Lat­est Mey­ers film dis­ap­points with for­mu­laic com­edy

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Movies - By John Bei­fuss

bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

Nancy Mey­ers, the writer and di­rec­tor of “It’s Com­pli­cated,” can be found on the cover of this past Sun­day’s New York Times Mag­a­zine, con­fi­dently stand­ing among a sea of seated women whose laugh­ing eyes and de­lighted smiles are turned to­ward an un­seen movie screen.

Con­trary to the ca­reer af­fir­ma­tion sug­gested by this photo il­lus­tra­tion, the ar­ti­cle is ti­tled: “Can Any­body Make a Movie for Women?” Au­thor Daphne Merkin de­scribes Mey­ers as per­haps “the most pow­er­ful fe­male writer-di­rec­tor­pro­ducer cur­rently work­ing” — a film­maker whose box-of­fice hits “res­cue the mid­dle-aged and man­less woman from her lonely plight,” mak­ing “this sorry crea­ture ... not only vis­i­ble but de­sir­able just the way she is.”

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing read, and its very read­abil­ity calls at­ten­tion to the trou­ble with Mey­ers’ ro­man­tic come­dies, in­clud­ing “It’s Com­pli­cated”: They’re more in­ter­est­ing to talk about — Why aren’t more movies aimed at this de­mo­graphic? What does the pop­u­lar­ity of th­ese films say about women and ma­ture re­la­tion­ships? In­deed, What Do Women Want? — than en­joy­able to watch, at least for those who hope for more from their movies than for­mula com­edy and es­capist de­pic­tions of glossy af­flu­ence.

“It’s Com­pli­cated” — Mey­ers’ fifth film as a di­rec­tor in 10 years, af­ter “The Par­ent Trap,” “Some­thing’s Gotta Give,” “The Hol­i­day” and, yes, “What Women Want” — stars Meryl Streep as Jane Adler, the man­ager of a suc­cess­ful up­scale Santa Bar­bara bak­ery who sur­prises her­self by beginning an af­fair with her self-cen­tered ex-hus­band (Alec Bald­win), now re­mar­ried to a much younger but hard-edged babe (Lake Bell) with a 5-year-old son. “I’m a walk­ing cliché,” this “ex with ben­e­fits” ad­mits.

At the same time, Adam Reynolds (Steve Martin), a more ap­pro­pri­ate late-in-life love in­ter­est, the ar­chi­tect de­sign­ing a ma­jor ex­pan­sion of Jane’s al­ready House Beau­ti­ful-ready home, be­gins to show an in­ter­est in his client.

Mey­ers’ movies are more sit­com than screw­ball. They don’t jolt or sur­prise. At times, “It’s Com­pli­cated” seems to be work­ing its way through a check­list of con­tem­po­rary al­lu­sions: jokes ref­er­ence feng shui, Pi­lates, bikini waxes and Match.com. When Jane’s last at-home daugh­ter leaves the nest for col­lege, mom moans: “I’m just won­der­ing who I’m gonna watch ‘The Hills’ with.” A scene in which Jane and Adam get stoned for the first time in decades earns laughs, but when Martin throws out his arms in a wild-and-crazy-guy pose, it re­minds us that the rest of the movie has kept him in a strait­jacket.

The af­flu­ence of the char­ac­ters is an­noy­ing. At a time when the hous­ing mar­ket is a wreck, Jane is blithely build­ing onto a home that al­ready looks way too big for a sin­gle woman. The ar­chi­tect re­veals that his re­la­tion­ship with his first wife fell apart dur­ing a bik­ing trip through Tus­cany. Jane tells the ar­chi­tect she no longer wants a bath­room with “his and her sinks,” as if the idea of a bath­room con­tain­ing two sinks will res­onate with most movie­go­ers. In one the­o­ret­i­cally comic scene, Jane vis­its a plas­tic sur­geon to price a “brow lift.”

Yes, Hol­ly­wood boasts a won­der­ful his­tory of movies that ig­nore the eco­nomic re­al­i­ties of the au­di­ence — the glit­tery Fred As­taire/Gin­ger Rogers mu­si­cals of the De­pres­sion, for ex­am­ple. But the char­ac­ters in th­ese films and the Van Nest Pol­glase sets they in­hab­ited ex­isted in an­other world; the char­ac­ters typ­i­cally were show peo­ple, or mad­cap heiresses, or com­i­cal blue­bloods. “It’s Com­pli­cated” wants to have its croque-mon­sieur and eat it, too; it wants audiences to iden­tify with th­ese blessed char­ac­ters as reg­u­lar joes be­cause they have kids and mar­i­tal prob­lems and they watch TV. But even if Meryl Streep ex­hibits the con­tours of a “real” woman, it all seems as unreal as “The Hills.”

Melinda Sue Gor­don Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures

In “It’s Com­pli­cated,” Meryl Streep (left) por­trays a woman who has an af­fair with her ex­hus­band (Alec Bald­win, sec­ond from right). Steve Martin and Lake Bell also star in the new film by wri­ter­di­rec­tor Nancy Mey­ers.

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