It’s Complicated: Nancy Meyers’ Romantic Dramedy, Starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin

Three good actors, Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin, are underused (read: wasted) in Nancy Meyers’ latest serio romantic comedy, the cliché-titled “It’s Complicated.”
By now, it’s clear that as a mainstream and conservative filmmaker, Meyers is on a mission to provide schmaltzy, middlebrow fare for “mature” women, preferably the single, middle-aged and career-driven type.  The new film is a follow-up to the quite entertaining “Something’s Gotta Give,” which was a commercial hit due to the charm of Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, and the disappointing “The Holiday,” which was a failure on every level.
Narratively, Meyers’ work, like that of her peer Nora Ephron, is an extension of TV fare (where it belongs), dialogue-driven and verbose, just wrapped in a glossy package with major stars and polished production values, courtesy of ace lenser and Oscar winner John Toll.  James Brooks and other male directors have done a much better job with such fare, including writing strong female parts, than Meyers or Ephron.
It’s probably a coincidence that the incomparable Meryl Streep plays two femmes this season whose specialty is food; the other being the slightly better “Julie & Julia.”  Streep plays Jane Adler, the mother of three grown kids, who owns a thriving Santa Barbara bakery-restaurant. A decade after her divorce, she seems to have an amicable relationship with her ex-husband, attorney Jake (Alec Baldwin). But, predictably, when Jane and Jake find themselves out of town for their son’s college graduation, things start to get complicated—they begin to date.
In this tiresome format, we follow the protags as they go through the motions and counter-motions of attraction and regret, decisions and counter-decisions, smart choice and faux pas.  Thus a seemingly innocent meal together leads to several bottles of wine, which in turn becomes a laugh-filled evening of memories about their 19-year marriage, which in turn leads to an impulsive affair.  Before you know it, Jane is forced to play “the other woman,” the adulteress, sneaking to hotels in midday for assignations with Jake.
Problem is, Jake is remarried to Agness (Lake Bell), a shrill, much younger femme who seems to be more interested in Jake’s sperm than in having sex with him, or in his company.  It’s hard to recall a more unpleasant femme in romantic comedies than Agness, who likes to humiliate her husband in public; she is not even attractive and certainly not a competition for Jane. We are embarrassed to watch Agness’ obnoxious boy (from another marriage) spying on Jake as he makes secretive calls to Jane from the bathroom (fully dressed) and then reporting them to his mom.
Caught in the middle of this renewed romance is Adam (Steve Martin, a sensitive architect hired to remodel Jane’s kitchen.  Also divorced, but more stable and “mature” than Jane, Adam starts to fall for her, when he realizes that he’s become part of an unusual love triangle.
The narrative’s central dilemma is: Should Jane and Jake move on with their separate lives, or has the passage of time made them realize that they really are better together than apart? Meyers has described her film as “a comedy about love, divorce and everything in between,” but the in-between is overly familiar and cliché-ridden (just as the title is) and the movie is greedy in its slow pacing and running time, taking almost two hours to get us to its expected ending.
We accepted Streep in lowbrow fare such as Mamma Mia! because it was a joyful musical (guilty pleasure), but here she is playing a childish woman and has to work with material that’s not witty or even intelligent.
The scenes between Streep and her three children are terrible, due to the fact that their parts are so underwritten; they are all cardboard. A monologue about vagina, that’s meant to be funny and daring, is just flat, and all the interactions between Jane and her female friends, sort of a Greek choir, are poorly done. You feel sorry for reliable actresses like Rita Wilson and Mary Kay Place.

 

Cast

Jane Adler – Meryl Streep
Adam – Steve Martin
Jake Adler – Alec Baldwin
Harley – John Krasinski
Agnes – Lake Bell
Joanne – Mary Kay Place
Trisha – Rita Wilson
Diane – Alexandra Wentworth
Luke Adler – Hunter Parrish
Gabby Adler – Zoe Kazan
Lauren Adler – Caitlin Fitzgerald
Sally – Nora Dunn
Ted – Bruce Altman
Peter – Robert Curtis Brown

 

Credits
A Universal release presented in association with Relativity Media of a Waverly Films/Scott Rudin production. Produced by Nancy Meyers, Rudin. Executive producers, Ilona Herzberg, Suzanne Farwell.
Directed, written by Nancy Meyers.
Camera, John Toll.
Editors, Joe Hutshing, David Moritz.
Music, Hans Zimmer, Heitor Pereira.
Production designer, Jon Hutman.
Art directors, W. Steven Graham, Keith P. Cunningham (L.A.).
Set designer, Easton Smith (L.A.); set decorators, Beth Rubino, Nancy Haigh (L.A.).
Costume designer, Sonia Grande.
Sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Danny Michael; supervising sound editor, Dennis Drummond; re-recording mixers, Paul Massey, David Giammarco.
Assistant director, K.C. Colwell.
Second unit directors, Joseph P. Reidy, Alex Hillkurtz (N.Y.), Guillermo Navarro (Santa Barbara); second unit camera, Patrick Capone (N.Y.). Casting, Ellen Chenoweth.
MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 118 Minutes.