With Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin. Rated R for some drug content and sexuality. 118 minutes.
Age is relative, of course, but with most romantic comedies being about people in their twenties and thirties (when they’re not being pitched squarely at teenagers), it’s refreshing to come across a movie like IT’S COMPLICATED. Here’s a story about a bunch of fifty-somethings with some miles on them. For younger viewers it might be the cinematic equivalent of imagining your parents making out, but for those for whom first love is but a distant memory, it works.
Jane (Meryl Streep) is a successful entrepreneur whose youngest son is graduating from college. Her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin) is a charming egotist who left Jane for Agness (Lake Bell), a much younger woman. When the family heads east for the graduation, Agness remains behind. Jane and Jake – after a drunken evening together – end up in bed.
Jane’s dilemma now gets complicated. Does she continue an affair with her ex, which now makes her the “mistress?” Does she shut it down and instead pay attention to divorced architect Adam (Steve Martin) who’s designing the addition for her house? And, after a long dry spell romantically, does Jane really want to reject Jake’s increasing interest which, at first, seems to promise a no-strings relationship?
No one’s going to confuse writer/director Nancy Meyers’s film with the great romantic comedies of the past. She even has a scene where Streep and Martin get stoned and then have to hide it at a party. Really? Pot jokes in 2009? Isn’t that about forty years late, even if you add the nostalgia factor?
On the other hand, Streep and Baldwin turn in two fearless performances. They play to the film’s strengths perfectly, overpowering its defects. Baldwin’s nude scene lets him maintain his modesty if not his dignity, showing that even good-looking charmers can get paunches in middle age. Where he’s had a shaky career as a leading man, he regularly scores in character parts like this. He looks like he’s finally enjoying his work.
As for Streep what is their left to say? Other than singing – “Mamma Mia” is awful no matter how much money it made – is there any anything she can’t do? Her recent films have included “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Doubt,” “Julie and Julia” and now this. In each film she offers a distinctive and memorable performance. There’s nothing “showy” in her turn as Jane, but you always feel you’re the presence of a three-dimensional person (as opposed to Steve Martin struggling with his underwritten role).
There are a few nice supporting turns, with Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place and Alexandra Wentworth appearing all-too-briefly as Jane’s Greek chorus of friends. Better still is Newton, Mass. native John Krasinski as the son-in-law who figures out what’s going on and doesn’t know what to do about it. His pained and confused expressions stand in for pages of dialogue.
“It’s Complicated” is an entertaining comedy that recognizes that affairs of the heart can strike at any age and that sometimes, indeed, it does get complicated.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.