— by JOEL CRARY —
Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe nomination for “It’s Complicated” may prove that the actor could draw awards for any role, no matter how pedestrian — compared with her other nominated work in films such as “Doubt” and even “The Devil Wears Prada,” the role of Jane could have been phoned in from a hundred miles away.
Thankfully, being every inch the actor she is lauded to be, Streep commits like a good sport and the latest film effort from writer/director Nancy Meyers isn’t a total wash.
To the plot: Jane and Jake (Alec Baldwin) were married for 17 years and have been divorced for 10. In full-on midlife crisis mode, Jake has married a perfect-bodied younger woman named Agness (Lake Bell). In therapy and trying to come to terms with her loneliness, Jane is introduced to Adam (Steve Martin), a soft and kind divorcee hired to develop an addition to Jane’s house. He seems perfect for Jane, but she and Jake start to rekindle their romance, discovering an excitement in their relationship that never existed when they were married.
The love triangle unfolds, with each actor becoming involved with the other and making his or her case for their own happiness. To Meyers’ credit, the story doesn’t settle lazily for the screwball. Unfortunately, her script is padded with endless scenes in which the characters debate the morality and dynamics of Jane and Jake’s affair. Rhetorical questions abound as Streep smacks herself in the forehead and asks, “What am I doing?” as though she knows we’re watching. And Jane’s group of female friends appears twice to offer little more than their herd reactions to the titillation of it all and some rather unfortunate dialogue about vaginoplasty.
Casting Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin certainly helps matters. Baldwin in particular has been hitting a comedic stride in the last couple of years and indeed would be wise to refrain from quitting acting, as he so recently threatened. Though always stalwart and dependable in roles that require him to be masculine and tough, Baldwin’s grizzled voice and mischievous expressions have consistently been bringing a liveliness to his work as of late. As for Martin, he’s an actor who’s been in desperate need of something a little calmer to allow his natural charisma to flow without feeling forced. As Jake and Adam, respectively, the actors are allowed to remind everyone how talented they are.
Because the Baldwin character is such a buffoon, there is hardly any sentimentality to Jane and Jake’s relationship, only the completely obvious idea that she put up with his charming yet ridiculous behaviour for far too long. Streep usually plays stronger women than Jane, who barely seems capable of making her own decisions. It’s that irony that provides for some amusing payoffs, such as scenes involving a joint that Jane brings along to a party. There’s also some nice comedic timing from John Krasinski as Jane’s son-in-law in these scenes and others.
I loathed Meyers’ previous film “The Holiday,” and while “It’s Complicated” is better, it suffers a similar sickness of the too-cutes. Meyers never gives her characters enough credit to behave normally. She portrays her female protagonists’ weaknesses as weaknesses shared by all women, whose most brilliant thoughts and observations are announced sarcastically into wine glasses as they ruminate on the ruin of their lives. I appreciate a film that looks at the relationships and emotions of those later on in life, as certain feelings and desires never fully go away. But a film like that could be funny and still refrain from treating its characters as insane for experiencing them.
Follow Joel Crary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joelcrary.