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On Loan: It's Complicated is Really Quite Simple Fare

My mother bought "It's Complicated" because she finds this film a "hoot." One night while visiting my parents' house, we decided to watch this movie, to which I consented because it stars Meryl Streep, and if you, gentle reader, have read previous entries of mine, you know that Ms. Streep is one of my favorite actresses of all time. Add to that Alec Baldwin (Jack Doneghy on "30 Rock," currently!), Steve Martin (still funny and still going, currently), and beautiful John Krasinski (Jim Halpert on "The Office," currently!), and this film had the makings of being, at minimum, decent, whether written and directed by the inconsistent and prolific producer of fluffy, lightweight, cotton candy romantic comedies, Nancy Meyers, or not. Of course, given the story arc of this film, I should have realized going into it that there is a certain target demographic for its audience, and that I am way outside of the target. This narrow focus might not have been, in itself, a detraction from the movie if Meyers had not recycled themes from "Something's Gotta Give" and broadened the appeal to audiences outside of the baby boomer generation, though it explains why my mother might have found the film funnier than I did.

In It's Complicated, Streep plays Jane, an independent divorcee who owns a bakery and is remodeling her home, ten years after her divorce. When her ex-husband, Jake (Baldwin), returns for their youngest son, Luke's, college graduation, an accidental dinner and drinks results in an unplanned re-sparking of their previous chemistry, and the two sleep together. Jane finds herself conflicted; on the one hand, she knows that this extracurricular sex with her ex, which begins to happen repeatedly, is wrong, as Jake is trying to start a family with his new wife, Agness (Lake Bell). On the other hand, Jane sees a certain thrill in being "the other woman," and Jake finds himself the beneficiary of exciting, secret sex on demand, though his feelings are laced or, shall we say, complicated with nostalgia for the family he left behind and for Jane's superb culinary skills. Add to these complications the fact that, first, Jane's architect, Adam (Martin), has taken time to get to know Jane and is falling for her, despite healing wounds from a fresh divorce himself. Furthermore, Harley (Krasinski), Jake and Jane's future son-in-law, actually catches them sneaking around at the hotel where everyone is staying for the graduation. Some women's intuition on the part of Agness and an unfortunate webcam experience later, and Jake and Jane find that they must sort out this complicated web of mature feelings, just as their children are shocked to discover that their parents are having an affair with each other.

Like Streep's character's professional calling, which includes a certain level of experimentation in the creation of delectable edibles, It's Complicated begins with a set of exciting ingredients that, mixed together, disappointingly coagulate into an odd puree of blandness. Perhaps, the cutesy tinge of this film appeals to a certain age bracket, one statistically prone to divorce and nostalgia for those free-spirited days of flower power and hallucinogenic agents, but it does not translate well for anyone younger than, say, 50. In many ways, the film feels like Meyers' earlier work, Something's Gotta Give, with less eccentric characters and even less chemistry between the alleged romantic leads. Instead of an author, discovering herself and love in her later years, it's a gourmet baker. Instead of an affair with a younger man and then a man more her age equivalent, it's an affair with a former flame followed by the burgeoning love with a new spark of fire. There is also an underlying subtext regarding the distance between maturity and the lack of it and between having life experience and being without it. It seems that Nancy Meyers meditates on subjects to which she best relates. Unfortunately, these subjects may alienate a wider audience, older or younger than the primary characters in the film.

There are some pleasant spices to the film that do not leave a bitter aftertaste when all is said and done, however. Streep is always fun to watch, even when the role is as sickeningly sweet and hollow as a swath of cotton candy, and this film and the character of Jane have that fuzzy, cotton candy texture. It is her performance and ongoing emotional struggles that center the film; she is both funny and touching at all the right moments, and her acting skills render the idea of her being a fifty-something gourmet baker an easy one to assimilate. Martin is also well cast as Adam, a gentle, sardonic foil for the distracted Jane. He brings his usual intelligence, grounded comedic timing, and sense of wit to the character, and their chemistry is charming, particularly when they both decide to get laced on a joint that the Jake character slips to his ex-wife in a fit of reckless abandon.

Speaking of Jake, however, Baldwin and Streep muster an odd chemistry that never truly satisfied or sat well, at least with this viewer, which is unfortunate, since it's this affair that provides the entire, underlying romantic and comedic tension of the piece. In fact, Baldwin's portrayal of Jake seemed, perhaps not coincidentally, a little too similar to Jack Doneghy, with his yuppie ideals and penchant for younger women, and because of this fact, I half expected Tina Fey's Liz Lemon to burst through the door during one of the ex-spouses' many trysts. Streep and Baldwin were never truly believable together, as a past or present motif, and so the complications seemed a little less complicated and, therefore, humorous in the end.

Luckily, the glue for the entire film, and the reason why the film was half as entertaining as it was to someone like this viewer (who is a bit younger than the target demographic) was the presence of Krasinski. His reactions to the discovery of the secret affair, and his character's successive attempts to hide the affair from his fiancee and siblings, give rise to the film's best laughs. Also, the addition of his character's perspective serves to bridge the generation gap here somewhat, if negligibly.

The screenplay contained some clever and pointed observations on life and love and growing up and growing old. Yet, the courses of this film never really coalesced into a filling meal. Like all romantic comedies, it was somewhat predictable, and unfortunately, the film provided little to nothing to say on anything other than the subjects of nostalgia and regret, topics which, again, outstretch to certain audience members and float meaninglessly by others. Even those subjects meandered helplessly as Meyers and the cast attempted to attain laughs that simply were not there and ignored the potential nuances of the premise and what it presented.

In short, It's Complicated is yet another predictable romantic comedy in the oeuvre of all predictable romantic comedies; it merely contains a superb cast that elevates the charm and appeal of the story somewhat, though not completely, due to the fact that the tale is, by definition and demographic, limited to start. Another measure of the enjoyability of this film is the nap factor; unfortunately, it caused me to fall asleep and, thus, to rewind to parts of the film I missed. Thus, I find myself rating It's Complicated a 6.5, between cute but mediocre and shaky but entertaining. The film also does not pass the test. As much as I love Meryl Streep, It's Complicated is, quite simply, not one of her better films.

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