It's Complicated (2009) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA rated R for some drug content and sexuality
Running time: 120 min.
Cast: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Hunter Parish, Zoe Kazan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Alexandra Wentworth, Emjay Anthony, Nora Dunn
Director: Nancy Meyers
Screenplay: Nancy Meyers
Review published March 3, 2012
What primarily attracted me to this film is that it is set in Santa Barbara, California, which is the town I happen to live in. Though there is a fly-over of the area (at least of Montecito, which is just south of the city) at the beginning of the film, and at least one prominent exterior shot outside of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (though the film depicts a farmer's market in front of it, which anyone from this area will know it never has in that spot.), many of the exterior shots are in Los Angeles, and most of the interior ones, including the main house and bakery, are in New York. Perhaps that is why there is a distinctive New England feel to the piece that had me forget through a large part of it that this is a movie set where I live.
But I'm sure most of you don't care about the authenticity of the locale shooting. You just want to know what the film is about and if it might be worth watching, right?
The plot: Meryl Streep (Doubt, Lions for Lambs) finds her role reversed when she becomes her ex-husband's mistress, who left her years prior to marry a much younger woman. She plays Jane, a 50-something divorced baker and restaurant owner who separated from ex Jake (Baldwin, The Good Shepherd) for roughly ten years, who finally has her Santa Barbara home to herself now that their three children have grown up and gone to college. She has tenuously forgiven Jake for his indiscretions, feeling partly responsible for their marriage not working out, but while he seems to have it all, she is finding her loneliness in life growing, with no one to share her home with.
The two cozy up while in New York attending their son's graduation from college, and they take this one night stand back home as Jake begins to miss all of the reasons he fell in love with her all over again, now stuck in a marriage with the gorgeous but demanding Agness (Bell, What Happens in Vegas). In the midst of this, a newly divorced architect working on Jane's home takes a liking to her, leaving Jane to consider whether she's content to continue to give Jake a momentary happiness, or if she needs to cut off the affair in the hope of finding some happiness of her own.
Targeted mostly at older female viewers, though it can be enjoyed by many others, It's Complicated is a film that extols the virtues of the older woman, the longtime wife and mother. While many men find themselves succumbing to the allure of the younger, hotter woman and leaving their wife and kids behind, the storyline in this film shows that men who pursue such directions often give up their best companion, the well-being of their children, then, after the sexual enticement of their new lover has begun to fade and reality sets in, they've given up their happiness and ability to communicate.
Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give, What Women Want), who excels at crafting just these sorts of romantic comedies for more mature female audiences, delivers perhaps her most original premise for a film. Even if the plotting of the relationships never quite deviates from the cliché, the actors still sell their characters and situations, whether it be for laughs or a moment of poignant reflection, and the end result is a movie that delivers just enough choice, novel situations and funny moments to get a solid recommendation. Corny? Definitely, at times. Just remember that Meyers is the one who wrote and directed The Holiday, which worked in an unabashed embracing of the corny right in its very storyline.
Perhaps it's needless to say, but a film like this can only succeed on the strength of the actors to imbue their very quirky characters with believability, and Streep and Baldwin prove every bit up to the task. Steve Martin (The Pink Panther 2, Baby Mama) gets a sizable supporting role, though one that doesn't very much require his comedic talent so much as for him to be likeably normal, perhaps even square and boring. John Krasinski's (Leatherheads, License to Wed) appearance is practically superfluous, perhaps worked in merely to capitalize on his rising stardom, as he gets quite a bit of screen time for someone so unimportant to the overall family dynamic (he's used mostly as an eavesdropper to the affair).
You know what to expect from a Nancy Meyers film -- immaculate homes, pretty vistas, and feasting on decadent desserts or dinners in every scene. And a story that will leave people smiling from the old-fashioned (though bawdy) good cheer, though toxic for those who are inured to such obvious manufactured pleasures. Also like her other films, it runs a bit too long and contains an overabundance of sire stories and characters that seem more a distraction than as a means to push forward the story, but It's Complicated surprisingly doesn't sag even when Meyers indulges in excess. It's a fun, delightful confection, though not to be confused with a full course meal.
One warning: there is a lot of delicious food and desserts on display; don't watch on an empty stomach.
©2012 Vince Leo