‘Complicated’ doesn’t equal complex — or realistic
> Latest Meyers film disappoints with formulaic comedy
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.”
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.