Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Nancy Meyers

Cast: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Zoe Kazan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Hunter Parrish

MPAA Rating: R (for some drug content and sexuality)

Running Time: 1:58

Release Date: 12/25/09

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 25, 2009

The title inherently rings false, but what have we come to expect with gimmicky romantic comedies anyway? Yet there is some basic charm to be found in the uncomplicated simplicity of fine comic performances elevating tried-and-true gags and a script that manipulates its characters and situations for the desired result.

It's a backhanded compliment, to be sure, so let me whittle it down a bit. There is charm to be found in the simplicity of fine comic performances, which It's Complicated has in its leads and at least one supporting cast member.

The premise involves a woman who is torn between two admirers, one of whom happens to be her ex-husband while the other is a professional contact. Typically, it's best to stay away from romantic affairs that involve either of these two options, but for Jane (Meryl Streep), a divorcée about to find herself in an empty nest and has been without physical or romantic love for longer than she cares to admit, both are extremely tempting while being equally, potentially stressful.

Streep might seem a strange choice for something so obviously frothy and genre-specific, but her performance here adds some necessary weight. We've seen a lot of actresses go through the motions that Streep is forced to enact in the movie, but rarely do we see one so convincingly run the gauntlet as she does here. There's a moment where she lies in a patio chair in her backyard, staring into the sky, pondering the situation in which she finds herself. It speaks volumes about Streep as an actress that she pulls off such an introspective moment in the midst of all writer/director Nancy Meyers' manipulation and for a moment makes us forget the pushing and shoving the script has done to get her there.

It all starts with a trip to New York to see her son (Hunter Parrish) graduate from college. She and her ex Jake (Alec Baldwin) are on speaking terms and have no problem getting together for such an occasion, in spite of his marrying a younger woman (Lake Bell) with whom he had an affair ten years ago that led to the divorce. While her son, two daughters (Zoe Kazan and Caitlin Fitzgerald), and the eldest's fiancé (John Krasinski) plan for a party, Jane finds herself alone at the hotel bar with Jake.

After some heavy drinking and dancing, they hook up, and Jake soon discovers he loves her again. Jane wants to stop their ensuing affair, especially after meeting Adam (Steve Martin), the architect working on her house, but finds something exhilarating happening along with the overt stress.

There's little subtlety here, and Meyers gives us some overly familiar scenes. Jane and her girl buddies bond in their gossiping. She has a neurotic session with her psychiatrist in which she spells out exactly what she thinks she should do while looking for advice. She and Jake try to hide their affair from everyone, meeting up at a hotel where the daughter's fiancé spots them and has to keep the secret. She and Adam smoke a joint before their first date to a family party, laughing hysterically at everything and getting the munchies before the night is out.

Meyers pulls as many strings as needed to simplify and later exacerbate matters. Jake's cheating on his new wife is made less of a problem by making her demanding and her young son a nuisance, but when it's time for a tone shift, Meyers gives us a scene of Jake tucking the boy into bed and looking melancholy. When she can't stand doing this with Jake anymore, Jane has Adam, who has been merely a side-player until then, to step in as the love interest. The children's eventual discovery of the affair especially is a heavy-handed, unfounded hack-job of outpouring angst.

There are these issues, but the cast helps immensely in neutralizing them. Streep and Martin play that stoned scene so well as to forgive the familiarity. Baldwin's puppy-dog eyes as he lovingly gazes at Streep, trying to convince her to bed or later understanding he's caused a big problem, are funnier than anything else Meyers could throw at Jake. A poorly placed webcam provides all three a hilarious moment in which Adam sees much more of Jake than he'd ever want to. Krasinski's big moment of seeing his fiancée's parents together again is some solid physical comedy.

And Steep balances out the rest, lending authenticity to both the comic and melodramatic machinations.

I laughed quite a bit during It's Complicated. It's more amusing than it has any right to be, because what Meyers lacks in comic inspiration and the ability to find the real heart of her characters amidst her narrative scheming, she more than makes up for in finding actors who can distract us from it and trusting them to do so.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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