It’s Complicated: Actually, It’s Surprisingly Simple
Nancy Meyers has never been known for making “deep” cinema. What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday– none of these can be accused of being rife with emotional complexity. However, they do create a certain comfortable level of emotional catharsis. Love can be found, lessons can be learned, adversities like our own can be overcome. While they’re more facile in execution in a Meyers film, there’s still a sense of truth that can be found. If the sketch is more broadly drawn, it is easier for people to see themselves in the characters and fill in the details for themselves. It’s Complicated is anything but, yet as we sense our three main actors, Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin playing, there’s a pervading sense of fun that rubs off on the audience.
Jane (Meryl Streep) has been divorced from Jake (Alec Baldwin) for ten years. She owns a bakery in California, and has three grown children, the last of which finally left the house to go to college. He married a much younger woman (Lake Bell), who has one hellion son from a previous marriage and is looking to have another… much to Jake’s chagrin. After a chance encounter at a bar leads to sex, which leaves Jake ecstatic and Jane with mixed feelings, an “affair” between the divorced couple seems bound to happen. Until Adam (Steve Martin), her nice-guy architect, hops into the scene.
Admittedly, I am not the target audience of this film. I have spoken to several women, all of whom found it charming and delightful. For those not immediately enchanted, there will be stretches of this film that are long or, even worse, repetitive. Streep is conflicted, Baldwin acts like a roguish ass, Streep gives in, they meet again, discuss this conflict once more, et cetera. Steve Martin lights up the screen every time he steps out– unlike the other two, who are doing similar characters to their usual routines, Martin plays a soft-spoken sweet man full of heart and understanding. He’s a far step away from the “wild and crazy guy” from movies past… this is closer to the sophisticated Steve Martin in Shopgirl. When thinking of a sophisticated older actor for the audience to root for in a romantic comedy, Martin’s not the usual choice, but he shines.
Really, the characters don’t need to be too complex for this film to be enjoyable. Streep and Baldwin are such pros that they can sleepwalk their way through material like this with ease. Baldwin relishes his fat slovenly physicality and thrusts it onto the screen every chance he gets here, showing a surprising lack of vanity for an actor who used to be famous for it. Streep looks terrific as the object of two men’s desires, delighting middle-aged women who fantasize about being in her shoes and looking as good as she does. She plays with every twist and turn of her emotions, juggling confusion and happiness and disgust and excitement with a deftness that only the greatest actress of all time could have.
I’d also like to note John Krasinski (Jim from The Office), who has been somewhat bland on the big screen in leading roles in the past, but between his performance in the indie Away We Go earlier this year and this hilarious supporting turn where he holds his own against Streep and Baldwin, perhaps he’s getting more comfortable with the film medium and will have a long career ahead of him. Here, in It’s Complicated, between the fun that the actors are having and the simple but charming setup that Nancy Meyers provides, it’s a pleasing romcom for the ladies that manages to keep the men’s interest as well. Meyers’ films cakewalk their way to 2.5 kernels every time out. But to earn anything higher, the movies would have to be more… well… complicated.