Is it? – It’s Complicated review

It’s Complicated – Starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Directed by Nancy Meyers. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

The only thing complicated about Nancy Meyers’ latest rom-com is its depiction of familial relationships. Why do Meryl Streep’s adult children keep on cuddling and squeezing one another? Why does her 21-year-old son climb into bed with his older sisters? And why is her son-in-law so touchy-feely? These questions, among many others relating to the dynamics of this family go unexplained, which is a shame because they are the only interesting elements of It’s Complicated. Everything else is as obvious as you can imagine. Only the weird bond between Streep’s family members can muster a raised eyebrow.

Of course it’s not Streep’s family that gave me the willies, but that of her character Jane, a fifty-something divorcee and highly successful chef. She divorced Jake (Alec Baldwin) more than a decade ago, and he has since shacked up with the much younger Agness (Lake Bell) and her young son Pedro. Relations between Jake and Jane, once strained, have eased in recent years. Their common link is their children, of whom they are obscenely proud. Their eldest, Lauren (Caitlin Fitzgerald) is engaged to the charming Harley (John Krasinski); son Luke (Hunter Parrish) has just graduated from university, and the youngest, Gabby (Zoe Kazan) is finally leaving home. Jake and Jane travel from Los Angeles to New York to celebrate their son’s graduation and discover their old feelings resurface. Uh-oh!

A fling begins. Jane is now the other woman; Jake’s mistress; the lucky recipient of a Baldwin Booty Call. She’s filled with shame; he’s filled with pride. Neither can deny the sparks flinging back and forth between them. The thing is, she’s recently started seeing a sweet-natured architect called Adam (Steve Martin) on the side. Who will she choose? Wow, it really is complicated. Actually, it’s not. At all. In fact, it’s apt that this film features so many scenes of Streep baking pastries, as the script is as cookie-cutter-conventional as it gets. There are little-to-no surprises to be found in Nancy Meyers’ screenplay; augmented by her typically bland direction.

There are undeniable moments of hilarity, thanks mainly to the performances of Streep and Baldwin. They both give it their all, and remind us just how powerful charming actors can be. They, along with Martin, make the film worth watching. Martin is as good as he can be in a role that requires him to primarily imitate a droopy-eyed puppy. Still, it’s hard to fathom the thought process behind casting the legendary Martin as the straight man. It’s almost as incredulous as casting the 51-year-old Baldwin as a frequently-shirtless romancer. Oh wait…

I don’t have a problem with the fact that these characters exist in that fantastical Hollywood world in which everyone is really rich and have outdoor cocktail parties every weekend. I can accept that. What I cannot accept are fraudulent characterisations of human relationships; no one acts in this film the way anyone ever acts in real life. When this is the case in a film built around adult relationships, we have a big problem. Towards the end of the film, Jake and Jane have a conversation that dances close to emotional honesty; the first and only moment that elevates the film from its many robotic machinations. I prayed that the film ended here, before Meyers could tack on a conventional happy ending. It was to no avail. I guess that scene of emotional honesty was just a fluke.

Speaking of fraudulent characterisations of human relationships, at one point in the film, Jake and Jane enjoy a movie night with their kids. The entire family huddles together on a couch, shares a big blanket and enjoys some homemade popcorn. The kids are always grinning, quipping, laughing, and grabbing one another. At the end of the film, when Jake and Jane’s affair is inevitably revealed, we are asked to believe that the children are emotionally devastated; the lingering after effects of their divorce a decade previous. Please. These kids are emotionally unstable? Just because Meyers’ script says they are doesn’t make it so. Maybe the family can spend one of their movie nights watching Precious if they really want to see an unstable family. The only affliction heaped upon these kids is their lack of personality.


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4 Responses to “Is it? – It’s Complicated review”

  1. I saw this on Christmas with my family, unfortunately the scene towards the end you spoke of was completely interrupted when a woman came into the theatre and yelled, "oh it's not done yet the ending is going on right now!"

  2. You ask: “Why do Meryl Streep’s adult children keep on cuddling and squeezing one another?” Do you get out much? With all due respect, this does happen in real life as I have eight children, seven of whom are adults ranging in age from 18 to 37, and when they’re together, they are are always hugging on each other. (or “cuddling and squeezing” if you prefer.) Perhaps the concept is foreign to you because much of the norm in today’s society is siblings who, like my own, are for the most part estranged from each other. One reason why I raised my own to be close to each other. Also again, where you say “fraudulent characterisations of human relationships” regarding the family movie night, either you haven’t been around many “real” families, or my own is that far outside the ‘norm’ because again, some years ago when we all lived closer to each other and a few were still at home, that scene is a reflection of my own family when we had our own ‘movie night’. Perhaps a reason I find the film as enjoyable as I do, so many things are indeed similar to my own family. Toss in my ex-husband and a handsome, soft-hearted service person, we’d probably have the same result.
    Aside from those points, I may not be a ‘professional’ critic, but your critique here reads as more like some vendetta towards the writer (Meyers) than as one of this, in my opinion, well casted, extremely well acted, hilarious, fun, film. As many of Meryl Streep’s films as I have seen as I adore her as an actress, this is one which I would deem as Oscar worthy. Along with Alec Baldwin, she was amazing, as was he.

  3. Oh please Marie, I’m with the author. The kids in this movie were sappy & distracting. Seriously all getting into bed together & needing the son-in-law to ring the mother?

  4. I, too, was fascinated by the emotionally stunted children. And Zoe Kazan may be the worst young actress working today. Ah, nepotism.

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