It's Complicated

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
  It's Complicated
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Jane attends her son’s college graduation where she inevitably bumps into her ex of ten years, Jake (Alec Baldwin), who is married to a much younger, va-va-voom hottie. Sparks fly, once again, for the former couple and Jane, formerly the wife, is now the mistress. Things perk up even more for her when she hires architectural engineer Adam (Steve Martin) to renovate her vast kitchen and sparks, again, fly in “It’s Complicated.”

I have the unique opportunity to write this review while I watch “It’s Complicated” a second time. The first time round, I was overwhelmed by the artificiality of the story, by director Nancy Meyers, and the characters she creates. Streep’s Jane is a forceful woman on the work front where she runs a successful bistro bakery and catering business. However, at home, she is suffering as she watches, one by one, her children leave the leaving her on her own and alone.

When Jake comes back on the scene, he and Jane meet at the hotel bar and talk about old times while hoisting a few, then a few more. The next morning she awakes next to a familiar/unfamiliar face – Jake. She freaks out, in between bouts of throwing up, and scurries back to her home, where youngest daughter is packing up to move out. Jane realizes that, for the very first time in her adult life, she will be all by herself. Things are not so bad, though, when she hires attractive, recently divorced Adam to redesign her kitchen (which looks, in the before form, pretty darned good). He is sincere, kind, a good listener and talker, good looking and an all around nice guy.

Suddenly, Jane realizes that she has two men in her life and this is where the title comes in. Realizing her attraction to Adam, she has mixed feelings about Jake as tries to woo her back. He has a hidden agenda, though. His trophy wife, Agness (Lake Bell), is no prize, with her demanding, nagging ways and young, spoiled son, Pedro (Emjay Anthony). Jane is his chance, now that they are both grown into what the other wanted – attractive, successful and comfortable – to get the life he wanted so long ago.

Jane and Jake’s secret affair – she will not tell her gaggle of girl friends (Meyers’s Greek chorus), who group supportively around, her mysterious lover’s name – starts to crack when future son-in-law Harley (John Krasinski) spots J&J checking into a fancy hotel. He tells no tales and lets Jane know that he knows but won’t tell her children.

When Jane asks Adam on a date, the two of them share a forbidden joint before going to a party, making for the film’s best and only funny scene, especially when the high-as-a-kite duo are confronted by Jake, her children and the knowing Harley. The rest of this rom-com is thoroughly predictable and aimed squarely at the femme audience, with the hope of more mature couples also attracted to the handsome, older cast. It delivers what I expected in a quality package but “It’s Complicated” is not what I want in a movie. But, hey, I’m a guy.

What works, the only thing, is the chemistry between Streep and Martin, from their first business meeting to the nice, believable romance that ensues. The two actors are best when together and when playing off jealous Jake after they get very baked. Alec Baldwin just reprises his role from “30 Rock” only making Jake a bit less cynical but not all that more complex or sympathetic. The supporting characters have zero dimension and are there solely to surround Jake and Jane as family and friends. Only John Krasinski stands out by being the same character (different name) he plays on “The Office.” (That, by the way, is not praise.)

This is a touchy feely girly movie that will likely do well with its demographic. Its overt sentimentality, sense of feminist empowerment, veteran stars and good techs will have great appeal over the holidays. But, not for me. First time, I gave it a D. I am glad have the chance to see "It's Complicated" the second time to give it another chance. I have never written a review while actually watching the movie again, so this is a different film going experience for me. Streep and Martin are terrific together and that boosts “It’s Complicated” to a C-.

Ten years after their divorce, Jane (Meryl Streep) is surprised by her ex Jake's (Alec Baldwin, TV's "30 Rock") nostalgia when they meet at a 30th anniversary party for mutual friends, but the spell is broken when his much younger wife, Agness (Lake Bell, "What Happens in Vegas") arrives, midriff and fangs bared.  But she's not around when the family gathers in New York City for son Luke's (Hunter Parrish, SHOTime's "Weeds") graduation and Jane and Jake's chance meeting at the Regency's bar leads to bed.  Jane is further confused by the attentions of a new man in her life, Adam (Steve Martin, "The Pink Panther 2"), the architect who is building her long-dreamed of kitchen addition.  All in all, "It's Complicated."

Writer/director Nancy Meyers ("Something's Gotta Give") dishes out another serving of middle-aged female fantasy where a divorced woman in her fifties looks fabulous, is fought over by two men, loved by her three handsome children, supported by her three squealing girlfriends, lives in a multi-million dollar hacienda with a garden that looks designed by Martha Stewart and owns a booming bakery cafe business.  It's as if Meyers has given Streep an outlet to indulge any vanity her late career surge has instilled in her.  The film's three stars do manage to make much of this material work, but there is plenty going on around them to drag one out of the experience.

Finally settled as a single, Jane is now facing empty nest syndrome as her youngest, Gabby (Zoe Kazan, "Me and Orson Welles"), heads to college.  She warily visits a plastic surgeon regarding the drooping skin over her eyelids (skin which is otherwise taut throughout the rest of the film), but runs in horror when she hears what the procedure entails. When the elevator opens on a lower floor, she's astonished when Pedro (Emjay Anthony), the wild child Agness bore before cheating on Jake, enters, followed by mom and Jane's ex, all headed from a fertility clinic!  Satisfied that she is above the cliches that now envelop her husband, Jane returns to her fabulous life in her chic cafe clogged with customers and her plans for her new addition (because her current Better Homes and Gardens kitchen, complete with window herb garden, is just not ostentatious enough).

These plans come along with Adam, a kind, handsome and cultured man still in the throes of divorce recovery, but while Jane is attracted to him, she cannot ignore the wicked deliciousness of having an affair with her own ex-husband.  (When together with her three friends - Trisha (Rita Wilson, "Auto Focus," "Old Dogs"), Joanne (Mary Kay Place, HBO's "Big Love") and Diane (Alexandra Wentworth, "Office Space," TV's "Head Case") - Jane bubbles over with the news that 'I'm having an affair with Agness Adler's husband!,' greeted with enthusiasm just short of a pillow fight.)  There are also several foodie scenes (Jane learned to cook in Paris, just like Julia), notable in that Jake eats her food while Adam gets a shot at cooking alongside her.

Streep, outfitted in elegant flowing outfits, spends a good amount of the film giggling, but her humor is infectious.  Baldwin, who is getting some Oscar buzz for this role, is playing a gentler spin on his '30 Rock' role, but admittedly socks over some really good lines, bravely bares a not terrifically toned bod and also shows a good, slow burn of jealousy and regret.  Martin is extremely likable here, the suitor to root for, although Meyers plays both ways so evenly her conclusion is merely a declaration lacking in foundation.  Support is bland, from Jane's interchangeable three children to her three shrieking friends.  As the eldest's fiance, Harley, John Krasinski plays the audience's point of view but he's merely doing his reactive "Office" schtick, barely able to keep from looking directly at the camera. Lake Bell is given a bad lot as the younger wife who has nothing to recommend her but her toned bod - she is at least given Jake's excuse of being shot full of hormones, which is the new marital sticking point du jour as also evidenced in "Did You Hear About the Morgans?".

The film's highlight is a second graduation party which Jane attends stoned on a hit of a joint left for her by Jake.  She proceeds to smoke behind the bushes with her date Adam, then is joined by Jake in the bathroom where Harley barges in.  It's the joint that keeps on giving, but the actors have fun with it.  Nonsensical behavior abounds, though, as when young Pedro cross examines Jake about his having taken a shower in his clothes from outside the bathroom door or when Jane's three children, who look on misty-eyed whenever mom and dad act civilized together, are traumatized by learning of their affair ('we're still getting over the divorce!' - really?).

In "Something's Gotta Give," an older, attractive woman with a dream career living in a dream house who hasn't had sex in too long is desired by two men, the second of which is introduced in a professional capacity (Reeves' doctor to Martin's architect).  The older male can be shown partially nude while the female is cocooned in sheets, and he's also the one laid bare to physical aging distress.  There is cutesy 'daring' dishing among the girls, hysterical second guessing by the principal, and romantic candlelit dinners paired with more offbeat dining engagements.  Meyers has a template and she's sticking to it.

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