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Dustin Putman

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It's Complicated  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by Nancy Meyers.
Cast: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Zoe Kazan, Hunter Parrish, Lake Bell, Rita Wilson, Alexandra Wentworth, Mary Kay Place, Emjay Anthony, Nora Dunn, Bruce Altman, Robert Curtis Brown, James Patrick Stuart.
2009 – 119 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for some drug content and sexuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 16, 2009.
Sure, starting an affair with your remarried ex-husband of ten years sounds complicated, but the characters' comfy, upper-class lifestyles seem so very, very easy. When her three grown children aren't shuffling in and out of the house at random, 58-year-old bakery owner Jane (Meryl Streep) lives alone in a secluded, highly idyllic Santa Barbara abode, complete with impeccably landscaped garden out front, swimming pool in back, and a spacious kitchen that would make Williams-Sonoma green with envy. Nevertheless, she's looking to finally expand said house with an even bigger kitchen and a whole second floor. Architect Adam (Steve Martin), still smarting from a two-year-old divorce, has a lot of great ideas for Jane's home and can't help but grow puppy dog eyes for her, too. It would all be so simple for Jane, dipping her foot back into the dating pool, if it weren't for the repeated indiscretions she has begun having with former husband Jake (Alec Baldwin), himself currently betrothed to the much younger Agness (Lake Bell).

Written and directed by Nancy Meyers with her typical dislike of the editing process intact, "It's Complicated," like 2003's "Something's Gotta Give" and 2006's "The Holiday," is a wish-fulfillment fantasy most succinctly targeting the over-40 crowd. Interested in penning romances involving quirky pairings and people out of their twenties, Meyers provides valid hope that love can still be found even after menopause. Less reassuring is her portrayal of a world where jobs are a part-time hobby, bank accounts are overflowing, and every meal looks like an unblemished advertisement for mouth-watering upscale cuisine. If only. Still, it's refreshing watching mature adults in a genre usually reserved for the youth market, and could be even more refreshing if Meyers knew how to tighten her pace and more judiciously use her scissors in the cutting room. At nearly a full two hours, the deliberate "It's Complicated" feels more like three. Fortunately, tart writing and the participation of some irreplaceable actors help to smooth out its long-windedness.

Meryl Streep (2009's "Julie & Julia") is at the center of the story, right where she should be. Playing someone more even-keeled and less show-offy than, say, Julia Child, Streep is both vivacious and quietly perceptive as Jane, a woman whose love life has been on hold for years as she has struggled to get over her divorce. It was the right thing to do at the time, to be sure, but when Jane and Jake travel to New York City for youngest son Luke's (Hunter Parrish) college graduation and find themselves parties of one at The Park Regent, a night of drinking, dancing and bonding leads to a rousing sexual encounter. It's unlike Jane to do such a thing—she even shocks herself—and she knows it's not right to suddenly be the other woman in her ex-husband's life, but she also can't deny that there is still something between them. Indeed, the more sensitive and sincere Adam, a potential alternate suitor, might be a better match for what Jane is looking for in her current life, and he makes it clear that he's not looking to get hurt all over again.

Streep, a queen of processing authentic conflicting emotions across her face at any given moment, is a class act in a role that is sneakily complex and written with great empathy. She's also naturally very funny when called to be, as when, upon Jake's new doctor being told that his patient has a low sperm count, Jane announces that she prefers a lot of semen. Sure, it's a cheap gag, but Streep hilariously sells it. Likewise, a set-piece where Jane and Adam indulge in smoking pot for the first time in nearly thirty years at a party thrown by Jane's eldest daughter Lauren (Caitlin Fitzgerald) is easily a highlight. As more guests find out and take part—first Jake, then Lauren's fiancé Harley (John Krasinski)—the party turns into a high and rollicking free-for-all that, surprisingly, ends on a solemn note and brings a touch of last-minute humanity to the underwritten part of Agness.

Emanating a vulnerable goodness, Steve Martin (2009's "The Pink Panther 2") is wonderfully low-key as Adam. Martin is always better in more down-to-earth roles over the more broad slapstick ones, and he excels here playing a talented architect putting his heart on the line for the first time since a difficult divorce. As Jake, Alec Baldwin (2009's "My Sister's Keeper") is great at playing self-confident cads, though this one is softer around the edges than his Jack Donaghy from TV's "30 Rock." Baldwin plays it right—not too smarmy, not too lovable—a flawed man who has realized too late what he once had and let slip through his fingers. The supporting cast is sadly wasted, from the awkward use of Jane's and Jake's kids, all of them underdeveloped and popping in and out of the house with apparently no jobs or obligations. John Krasinski (2009's "Away We Go"), as future son-in-law Harley, is faced with a role of forced comic relief, plagued over learning about Jane's and Jake's extracurricular activities. It's a running joke too cloying by a half. Even more artificial is the use of Rita Wilson (2009's "Old Dogs"), Alexandra Wentworth and Mary Kay Place (2008's "City of Ember") as Jane's gal pals, who appear two or three times to drink wine and giggle together without any of them receiving actual flesh-and-blood parts to play.

"It's Complicated" takes its time reaching its conclusion, but it is a good, fair and honest one, simple and yet lyrical enough in its own way to leave a positive impression upon the viewer. Boiling down not to which man Jane chooses, but whether she has learned from the past and is ready to sink her teeth into whatever possibilities the future may hold, the film is glossy but wise when it is not trying too hard. As long as there are Nancy Meyers' of the world, we can take comfort in knowing that (1) there are romantic stories to be told about people of every age range, and (2) we, also, can receive tidy divorce settlements and live the rest of our days in luxury.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman