karen_w_newton (karen_w_newton) wrote,

It's Complicated is also It's Hilarious (movie review)

It's Complicated
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers
Staring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin
Universal Pictures
120 minutes

I don't see that many movies in the theater anymore, but when I saw the ads for It's Complicated, I knew I wanted to see it. For once, I was not disappointed. This movie is a gem, a story that fits its medium beautifully.

One problem with being a writer is you tend to lose the ability to enjoy a book or even a movie because you can't turn off your inner critiquer. For all but maybe 5 of these 120 minutes, this was not a problem. For one thing, the script is so funny, the audience was howling with laughter. For another, it's perfectly cast— not a stinker in the bunch. Finally, it's visually gorgeous as far as sets and lighting, but it's not afraid of showing middle-aged flesh, which I found refreshing.

The plot summary is obvious if you've seen any of the trailers. Jane and Jake Adler (Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin) were married; he cheated with a much younger woman named Agness, and is now married to her, but Jane and Jake find themselves having an affair. The hilarity ensues partly in their efforts to keep the affair not only from Jake's wife but from Jane and Jake's three grown-up kids. Meanwhile Jane is remodeling her gorgeous Spanish-style house and her architect Adam (Steve Martin) shows an interest in her. She likes him but Jake is very persuasive and she holds Adam at arm's length until Jake lets her down.

Jake's side of the story has a lot of comic aspects that Alec Baldwin plays very well. He's an older man with a younger wife who wants a baby, and he's not happy about additional fatherhood at his time of life. He's following the path of least resistance but still trying to get what he wants. He sneaks out of a fertility clinic appointment to go have a quick nooner with Jane at a hotel, the same hotel where their oldest daughter Lauren and her fiancee Harley (John Krasinski in a standout performance; he almost steals the show) are interviewing for their wedding reception. The bits where the fiancee tries to keep Lauren from seeing her parents are some of the funniest in a very funny movie.

One thing that stands out is that no one in this movie is worried about money. Jane owns and runs a combination gourmet food store, bakery, and cafe (Meryl Streep also played Julia Child in a 2009 movie. She'll have to be careful not to get stuck in the kitchen in her next role or she could be typecast). Jake is a partner in a law firm and drives an expensive-looking sports car. The whole family flies to New York to attend their son Luke's college graduation and spend money like it was just a matter of picking some more in Jane's perfect-looking kitchen garden. I suppose partly that's to make it plain that the important parts of the story aren't about money, but still, when you look back at it, you do realize that any movie that's about couples, children, and divorce and never mentions money is a fantasy.

The set-up for the affair is more plausible. Jake's wife's son gets sick; she can't go to the graduation; they're all staying in the same hotel, but the kids want to hang out with Luke's friends at a party, so, inevitably, Jane and Jake run into each other in the bar, alone. Many, many drinks later, they wind up in bed.

Storytelling in visual form is very different from writing a book. For one thing, you only get about two hours, three at the max. For another, you have to rely on a lot of other people to cooperate in your vision. I think one reason this movie holds together so well is that the writer also directed it. The only place I felt the script was at all weak was the set-up for Agness' backstory, which was more or less read out loud by Jane's friends as they sat around her coffee table drinking wine. But I think that's because Nancy Kramer wanted Agness to have a five-year-old son without making Jake the father, and that took some convoluted history. Still, this script sparkles with witty dialog, and no character comes across as cartoonish or flat. And for once, it showed mature characters as being attractive without looking ridiculously young. It also does an excellent job at delving into Jane's character, personality, and motivations and makes her sympathetic without being perfect.

If I were giving out stars, I'd give It's Complicated five out of five.

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Tags: movies, reviews

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