When 'It's Complicated,' Life Can Be Fun (For A Bit)

W: Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in 'It's Complicated'

hide captionMaking a splash again: Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play exes embarked on a sexcapade in Nancy Meyers' comedy It's Complicated. Which isn't, particularly — though it does proffer some mild wisdom about adults who play well together.

It's Complicated

  • Director: Nancy Meyers
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy
  • Running Time: 118 minutes

Rated R: sex, drugs, and middle-age

With: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell

Sixty-year-old director Nancy Meyers, whose Diane Keaton-Jack Nicholson comedy Something's Gotta Give went through the box-office roof after her split from husband and collaborator Charles Shyer, comes once more in praise of older women with It's Complicated, another fantasy of late-life romance with a Neiman-Marcus trim. And in fairness, I'd rather see Meryl Streep rush screaming from a plastic surgeon's office, as she does before he can get to her sagging eyelids in It's Complicated, than do the splits on a Greek island to show there's life in the old mamma yet.

Who doubts it? Streep is on the roll of her career, and though It's Complicated is the least of her achievements this year — she was funnier in Julie and Julia, and less cloying in Fantastic Mr. Fox — she brings an entertainingly neurotic glow to this wishful confection of a movie, which has nothing to do with the lives of women of a certain age and everything to do with the lives Meyers thinks they wish they had.

And maybe she's right, at least for women who spend their days with their heads buried in the Williams-Sonoma catalogue. Streep plays Jane, a long-divorced Santa Barbara baker who exudes bounty on all fronts. Bustling around in flattering white shirts and floaty scarves, Jane grows aphid-free veggies in neat rows, and she can throw together a batch of discreetly French chocolate croissants on a dime.

Bathed in golden SoCal light and crammed with gleaming copper-bottomed cookware, Jane's empty nest magically refills with supportive grown children, plus John Krasinski for comic relief, when trouble looms. At a time when most women are coming to grips with their invisibility to men on the street, Jane finds herself pursued by not one but two presentable swains her own age. That one of them happens to be her ex-husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin) — an attorney now married to a set of thirtysomething washboard abs (Lake Bell) — is demonstrably not cause for concern.

You go, girl, urges her therapist, abandoning his customary annoying habit of guiding her to making her own damn decisions. Get out on that limb, cheep her children, for we want our unbroken family back. And yes, Go for it, chortles the obligatory posse of lunching ladies, all of whom (including a very uneasy-looking Mary Kay Place, who looks as if she'd rather be anywhere but here) have been upgraded to blonde 'dos remarkably like Meyers' own.

And so off Jane goes, grinning sheepishly, on a bender of trysts with Jake — because after all, they understand one another so well, and the sex is just great — in hotels (direct steal from The Graduate) or in her own tastefully upholstered bedroom, all the while fending off the tentative advances of an unattached architect (Steve Martin) with "suitable spouse" written all over his unexcitingly reliable mug.

You see where all this is headed: tears, recriminations, major reality check. Along the way, there's some enjoyable knockabout physical comedy — say what you like about Baldwin, he lacks all vanity about the way he's aging — and an occasional nugget of wisdom about the companionable spontaneity, the sheer pleasure in having silly fun, that comes with later-in-life romance.

But there's something disturbingly passive-aggressive and belittling about Jane's attitude toward Jake. We just love our immature doofuses, don't we, girls, she seems to say, beaming brightly, even when they refuse to grow up?

In fact, when it comes to moral confusion Jane is the worst offender. In what passes for wising up, she tells her children that she and Jake "don't fit together any more." Never mind that he's married, with one young child and — fertility clinic willing — another to come.

For all its breezily affectionate tone, It's Complicated, with its endless jokes at the expense of the life Jake is too old for and its cutaways to the furious scowl of Wife Number Two (cold bitch alert!), is at its core a revenge fantasy for the jilted wife. Not that there's anything wrong with that — but The First Wives' Club came by its bile more honestly.

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