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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's Complicated

The most complicated thing about It’s Complicated has to be in the miracle that it even got made in the first place. Imagine a sex comedy where the three principle parts are all played by people over the age of forty ~ er, okay, fifty and two of those are actually on the other side of sixty. I barely made it into the lobby at the Essex Cinemas before one of the young’uns who works there asked what I was going to see. “It’s Complicated” I replied, only to be met by a scrunched up face and the comment “Oh, the old people’s movie.” Therein lies the dilemma for filmmaker Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give) and the talented team of marketers from Universal Pictures. How do you fill the theater when the target demographic for this gem of a film spends more time focusing on ads for Metamucil in their daily newspaper than they do checking out the movie schedule? The answer to that is obvious: you make a really witty movie that pokes fun at the aging process and the simple fact that no matter what the calendar says the truth remains that we all need a little love and an occasional game of ‘Chutes and Ladders’ now and again, if you get my meaning (and I know that you do).

As for the plot, It’s Complicated isn’t nearly as complicated as you might think, at least if you’ve lived a little. After all, who hasn’t gotten drunk and slept with their ex-husband (or wife as the case may be) in a weak moment?  That’s the dilemma Jane (Meryl Streep; Julie and Julia) faces after ending up in the same hotel with her former husband Jake (Alec Baldwin of tv’s “30 Rock”) while both are attending their son’s New York University graduation. So, you may ask, what is the big deal? Maybe it’s because Jake is now married to the near-fetus (Lake Bell; Pride and Glory) he cheated with while still wed to Jane, or the fact that the divorced Adlers’ three adult kids are still carrying tons of emotional baggage that came with their parents’ divorce. Maybe, too, it the fact that Jane has spent these last ten years rebuilding her own independent spirit and self-esteem and can’t quite believe she would so easily succumb ~ especially with a married man. That is a problem, but not nearly as much of one as how to handle this slip just as her relationship with a sensitive architect named Adam (Steve Martin; The Pink Panther 2) is heating up. Toss in a bit of high-powered reefer (yes, reefer!) and you’ve got some pretty hilarious stuff because, after all, nobody expects to see America’s premier actress toking up on-screen and losing her inhibitions altogether.

Baldwin deserves credit for making a fool of himself while abandoning his former leading man status by baring nearly all, thus exposing a middle-age spread most actors would be ashamed to let be seen in public. Instead, Baldwin prances about proudly, like a rooster let into the hen house once he has scored with his former wife. His uncomfortable subservience as the whipped husband to Bell’s Agnes includes some hysterical footage of Jake trying to “do his duty” in a fertility clinic because Agnes demands that they have a child even though Jake is far from convinced that this is a good idea. There’s just something instinctively silly about seeing adult men talking about their sperm. On a more serious note, it is his bonding with Jane after all these years that is, to him, an acknowledgement that he’s finally grown up. Unfortunately, to Jane, her indiscretion appears to be nothing more than a terrible mistake despite Jake’s assumption that it is their first step towards reconciliation. Apparently he has finally come to his senses and realizes that his trophy wife is no Meryl Streep. In doing so, he shows himself to be genuinely remorseful, and his sly charm is endearing, surprisingly so since it was his adultery that destroyed his marriage in the first place.

Streep is also no slouch in pointing out her own flaws. She insists that Jake never see her naked except when she is lying down because “things have shifted” due to gravity, and she reveals her insecurities about not measuring up to his current wife. She frets about her drooping eyelids, the lines around her eyes, and her general appearance, but these self-doubt are balanced by her confidence in her skills in the kitchen where she knows she is a superb chef. It’s her success as the owner of an upscale bakery that creates the reason for her first meeting with Adam, who has been hired to design a new addition for her home so she can have the dream kitchen she has wanted for years. Martin turns in a surprisingly understated performance as the soft-spoken architect whose own divorce has left him emotionally battered and shy. His cautious interest in Jane is perhaps the most subtle part of the film, so much so that you almost  wonder if he is the right guy for Jane, whose chemistry with Jake remains explosive.

That is the key piece of It’s Complicated. The actors rise above the simple structure of the script and imbue their characters with many layers. Streep plays Jane with enormous depth while Baldwin excels in showing his vulnerabilities and makes the regret he experiences over his infidelity so palpable that you can’t help but feel sorry for him.

One character you don’t have to feel sorry for isplayed by hunky John Krasinski (tv’s “The Office”), who steals the spotlight from the veteran actors in every scene he is in. As Harley, fiancé to eldest daughter Lauren (Caitlin Fitzgerald; Taking Woodstock), Krasinski is the “inside” outsider who accidentally stumbles upon the sexy shenanigans of his future in-laws and then bumbles his way through the picture trying not to let on that he knows what Jane and Jake are up to.

While It’s Complicated is a fast-paced, clever comedy rooted in some have painful truths. Adultery is still a tough subject to address and Jane hasn’t quite gotten over the rejection and hurt even after all these years. Jake also has to accept that he is not the center of his family’s universe any longer, and both share the ache of growing older and not fitting the image in their heads of who they are versus the reality of being older than they feel. The movie includes some frank discussions about the motives of the characters and it doesn’t shy away from the sexual needs and loneliness of women over a certain age.

The resolution of the story (which you’ll have to see to find out) is refreshingly more realistic than what one has come to expect in romantic comedies these days. It’s Complicated may seem like an “old people’s movie” to the teenagers enraptured by New Moon and such, but for those seeking a more profound (and funny) experience, It’s Complicated is the simple answer.

1 comment:

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