Love in the time of croissants!
Directed and written by Nancy Meyers
Universal, (rated R),118 mins.
* * *
It’s Complicated has hit theaters in time for Oscar season. It’s an enjoyable enough two-hour escape, though it’s as light and gauzy as a July breeze. Summer is the season the film should have been released as it’s entirely too inconsequential to be taken seriously for cinema prizes.
The film is written and directed by Nancy Meyers, among whose past credits is What Women Want. If we are to trust It’s Complicated, apparently one of the things women want is a filthy rich ex-husband whose divorce settlement includes enough dough to ensconce them in dream houses with ocean views on a peninsula near Santa Barbara, and the capital to open a string of upscale pastry shops! This film is being billed as a “smart film” about divorce and dating past fifty, but it’s about as realistic as Cher’s body. The film shows that Hollywood has no friggin’ idea of how an obscure tribe known as “Americans” actually lives!
The storyline is simple. Jane (Meryl Streep) and her philandering ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin) have been divorced for a decade. He’s now a successful law partner married to a much younger woman (Lake Bell) and the surrogate father for her monstrous son. He’ll also be a future dad if she gets her way, more than a problem as he’s already a father to three young-adult children by Jane. At their son’s graduation in New York—from Columbia, natch—no one in this film ever saw the inside of a state college—Jake and Jane’s mutual animosity is dulled by drink and they end up in the sack. Fabulous sex and shared history lead Jake to contemplate whether reconciliation is possible, while Jane seems more content to be a mistress.
That’s complicated, but it gets more so when Adam (Steve Martin) shows up. He’s the architect designing the “addition” to Jane’s home, one that’s roughly the size and budget of most rural townships. Jane and Adam are attracted to one another and are clearly a good match, but Jake won’t go away and Jane keeps falling for his moves. The humor of the film derives from sit-com setups such as trying to keep the secrecy lid on the affair, Jane sharing naughty tales with her girlfriends, trying to keep the kids in the dark, and attempting to keep Jake off Jane’s bod. The drama? Will Jane and Adam get together, or will Jane blow it?
There is a lot of self-indulgence going on here, starting with the cheap emotion that Meyers wrings from older women’s revenge fantasies of being the “other” woman in a triangle involving younger blood. But do we believe, for instance, that Donald Trump would dump his eye candy du jour to get back together with Ivana? And do we believe that anyone has a family as perfect as Jane’s? Her brood aren’t kids; they’re perfectly scrubbed wide-eyed puppies that are so darn cute we want to pet them. The youngest daughter goes off to college in Jane’s spare car, a pristine Prius, for heaven’s sake, and her older, recently engaged sister lives in a house big enough for half of California to party in. Thank goodness for John Krasinski’s fine turn as son-in-law-to-be Harley; he’s the only believable character among the younger set and he has fine comedic timing as well.
But wait, it gets more fantastic. Jane is also a world-class chef—she’s the Julia Child of paramours. The film is rated R for “sexual situations” and language, but it could have earned the rating for its food porn—piles of croissants, perfectly baked chickens, gooey chocolate cake, and refrigerator shelves groaning under the weight of comestibles…. The food scenes are great fun and, if you ask me, the concession stand should be serving éclairs and veal scaloppini. But they are another measure of how this is Hollywood’s view of the world. Interestingly enough, all the women are thin. (Another Meyers fantasy?)
Still, the film is not a bad way to wile away time. There are a few chuckles and Streep is, as always, wonderful. She adds dimensionality to an underwritten character and is convincingly confused and conflicted one moment, and business-like competent and decisive the next. The film is really her vehicle and she drives it with professional skill. Also wonderful is Steve Martin, whose acting skills are much underrated. His manic energy is in check in this film, and he plays Jake as saintly, but vulnerable.
As for Alec Baldwin, mixed reviews. We must applaud his courage for putting his (considerable) body on display for laughs. He’s not porky; he’s fat! Not since Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler have we seen such male ruin upon the screen. He has a tough role to play in that he must convince us simultaneously that he’s bad news, but that he could nonetheless get the brainy Jane to follow her libido instead her smarts. Baldwin’s is a dance between charm and smarm. Mostly it works, but not well enough that we ever think that Jane should do anything other than take out a restraining order.
Our advice: partake of the film as you would Jane’s sinful pastries. Savor the sweetness, but don’t overindulge. And for heaven’s sake, don’t believe a moment of it.