It’s Complicated (2009)
“First comes marriage. Then comes divorce. And then…”
It’s Complicated (2009)
Director: Nancy Meyers
Cast: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin
Synopsis: When attending their son’s college graduation, a couple reignite the spark in their relationship…but the complicated fact is they’re divorced and he’s remarried.
The phrase ‘it’s complicated’ is generally used by those who possess an over-inflated sense of their own worth and a mistaken belief that they are more interesting than they really are – which, funnily enough, is a pretty good summary of the 2009 romantic comedy from Nancy Meyer which takes that over-used phrase as its title. People also often hide behind that phrase to justify actions which they know will show them in a poor light in the eyes of others; and while Jane Adler, the character played by an unusually bubbly Meryl Streep (The Deer Hunter, The Iron Lady) doesn’t utter the words herself, the positive light in which Meyer’s screenplay paints Jane and her behaviour makes it very easy for the audience to forget she’s an active participant in the break-up of a marriage. But, hey, the wife’s a stereotypical bitch, so it’s ok to mess with her marriage… Right?
The man with whom Jane is dallying just happens to be her ex-husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin – Married to the Mob, The Departed), from whom she split when she discovered he was having an affair with the much younger Agness (Lake Bell – Man Up), the woman who’s now his wife. Is revenge a motive, then? Not really. Jane and Jake end up in bed together after getting drunk in New York the night before their son’s graduation, and the general line is that there’s unfinished business between them. An added complication arrives in the form of Adam Schaffer (a plastic-faced Steve Martin – Roxanne, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), a divorced architect commissioned to build an annex to Jane’s home whose obvious attraction towards her is both obvious and reciprocated.
In the grand scheme of things, Jane’s ‘complicated’ life comes across as beyond trivial. Perhaps this is because she enjoys an existence free of real conflict or hardship. She lives in a beautiful house, drives a big car, has three adult kids so squeaky clean that it’s easy to imagine them being vacuum-sealed and placed in a cupboard for storage between scenes, a thriving bakery business, and supportive girlfriends. So it’s kind of difficult to get too involved in this prosperous, upper-class middle-aged white woman’s lack of male companions. It’s true, I’m not a member of the movie’s target demographic, but how necessary is a man in the life of a woman whose life appears to be full in every other way? Certainly not enough to entertain the thought of entering into an affair with another woman’s husband, that’s for sure. And especially not a husband who’s propensity for adultery is established from the outset.
But Jake has immense charm, and a kind of boyish glee. His home life is strange. His wife bullies him, and his little son, Pedro… well, you’d think he and Jake had met only a couple of days before the movie began for all the warmth in their relationship. No wonder Jane looks like the preferable option. We can see it, so why can’t she? After all, she’s supposed to be smart and independent. She gets there in the end, but it’s a long haul through a series of mildly amusing but mostly contrived set-pieces. Streep laughs more in this film than in the rest of her screen career, and it’s nice to see her cutting loose for once, but she’s overshadowed by a surprisingly good Alec Baldwin. Steve Martin mostly lurks in the background, wisely avoiding open fires.
(Reviewed 19th December 2015)