REVIEW: It’s Complicated [2009]

“You’ve gone native”

I think I totally got Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron confused when going into the former’s newly Golden Globe nominated film It’s Complicated. Meyers’ filmography has actually been well received, both what she’s written and directed, while Ephron’s, besides her latest, a gem in Julie & Julia, is lackluster for my taste, (I’ve yet to see the ubiquitous When Harry Met Sally). Therefore, I went into the film with low expectations, thinking I would be getting a worn out plot line of romance and hijinks instead of the intelligently told, authentic look into the life of divorce, how it affects an entire family and how the principal players deal. I was laughing for the duration, uncontrollably almost towards the end when a graduation party and marijuana cross paths, and really had a great time with these characters. And, thankfully, Meyers didn’t go with the obvious plot progressions, or at least not the easy ones. Every move seemed real and natural, showing the ambiguity of life—that mixture of happiness and sadness that follows us all as we live and grow.

The trailer really does do a bang-up job describing this thing in a concise nutshell. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin’s Jane and Jake Addler respectively have been divorced for a decade, after twenty years of wedded bliss, and are crossing paths as they gear up for their son’s college graduation. He has re-married, exchanging nuptials with the mistress that brought about the divorce in the first place, after a fling of her own and a surprise son, while she has carried her culinary skills to a successful bakery and fulfilling life lacking just one thing—a man to use the his sink to her half of the bathroom’s pair. Finally, after ten years, seeming to be at one with where her life has gone, she decides to get the huge expanded kitchen she has always dreamed of, bringing a kindly architect into her life just as her ex attempts to convert his depression with new young wife and younger son into a newer affair, one making the original cheated on into the present cheater. After five years of zilch on the dating front, she now has two men working for her attention, all while she figures out if she wants either … or both. Complicated indeed.

Well, the trailer does mislead a tad with the fact that the bulk of the movie deals with the Addler family alone. Steve Martin’s architect Adam, the other man if you will, plays only a small role through the first two-thirds, acting more as the life she could go for if she wasn’t so physically attracted to Jake and taking the road she knows she should not, rather than a force trying to push his way in. The actual triangle, so to speak, (there is very little interaction between Martin and Baldwin, hopefully saving all their chemistry for their co-hosting stint at the 2010 Oscars), only becomes relevant towards the end, culminating in one awkwardly hilarious scene involving a MacBook Pro and little else … if you know what I mean. So, we mainly are following Streep as she copes with what is happening in her life, wondering if she wants Jake back, if she is just lonely, or if she sees someone broken that needs fixing as a replacement for her last child fling the coup for school. We watch her everyday life become interrupted with her affair, transforming her into a spontaneous being, causing her to wonder if that is who she wants to be. Of course, we also get the girls’ night dinners to talk and cackle about the craziness with an interesting threesome in Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, and Alexandra Wentworth—the only scenes where I felt how much of a chick flick this was.

And that is the biggest compliment I can give the film because it really does work outside its genre, becoming a comedy that everyone can enjoy. Those estrogen-infused instances are seldom and still funny in their bashing of Baldwin’s cheating brute, leaving the story to rise up despite them. Maybe it’s just because I’m a guy, but those two moments really weren’t necessary; her attitude change was noticeable in other facets and didn’t need to be spelled out with her friends so literally. That and a couple other exposition moments killed the pacing for me a bit; leading to the one criticism I have of the movie, that being the runtime feeling a tad overlong. Otherwise I was really enjoying the tale, looking to see what would happen next as, honestly, she could have ended up with either man and still made sense. There is definitely still a flame lit between Jane and Jake, but the burgeoning interest with Adam is strong enough to put it out. And here is where I thought the film did exactly the right thing; it became more than just the result of who wins. How the children felt and where they stood with everything came into play, as did the other players and how it affected their lives, especially the married one in all of this, Jake’s wife Agness. The film itself was three-dimensional; using a simple act like adultery—spun on its head—to springboard a relevant story, not to consume it in trivialities and clichés.

The reason it felt so real is due in large part to a wonderful ensemble cast. Martin is great, as is Streep, but until a bit of drug use was introduced into the mix, I didn’t really see their performances standing out from the rest. Instead, it is Baldwin and John Krasinski, as the fiancé to the eldest daughter, that runaway with the laughs. Baldwin just exudes charisma and machismo, making it believable that he could get any woman he wanted. The way he cross-examines Streep to sweep her off her feet, the way he feigns tears to tug at his children’s heartstrings, and the way he uses sarcasm with a self-deprecating bent—Flomax anyone—all proves his comedic genius. The guy is having fun and going for broke, rising to the occasion and allowing Streep to work off of him with her seriousness interspersed with glimpses of fun. As for Krasinski, this guy is the comic relief added to perfection. He plays it big with expressive gestures, voice, and precisely-timed quips, serving as the audience’s surrogate, knowing more about what is happening than the other characters, and trying to come to grips with it all. Watching his emotions toss and turn on a dime while viewing firsthand the affair happening in front of his eyes—and behind his girlfriend’s back—is priceless. Those little details are what make this film a success and, as in real life, the things that complicate everything, making the title an appropriate one as well as its award nomination.

It’s Complicated 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Jane (MERYL STREEP) and new love interest Adam (STEVE MARTIN) share a meal in the new film from writer/director/producer Nancy Meyers, “It’s Complicated”, a comedy about love, divorce and everything in between. Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon Copyright: © 2009 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] Exes Jane (MERYL STREEP) and Jake (ALEC BALDWIN) have a little too much in the new film from writer/director/producer Nancy Meyers, “It’s Complicated”, a comedy about love, divorce and everything in between. Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon Copyright: © 2009 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


2 Thoughts to “REVIEW: It’s Complicated [2009]”

  1. Oh man, this is a great review Jared. I can’t wait to see this movie. I’m adding it to my Netflix list now!

  2. Uofmrebel

    I agree. Baldwin and Krasinski carry the movie.

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