I suppose It’s Complicated could be considered a good movie. It’s well made. It features a strong performance by Meryl Streep, who pulls the bulk of the film along on strength of will alone. There are clever moments, and moments that contain genuine maturity and intelligence. Judging by the applause I heard as the end credits rolled, for many, this is enough.
Streep plays Jane, a well-to-do bakery owner, who’s still adjusting to her decade-old divorce and whose big goal in life seems to be having “the perfect kitchen.” Why she needs to add on to the already gigantic house where she lives alone is never really explained, but this plot point does, through the magic of screenwriting, allow quiet, reserved architect Adam (Steve Martin) to enter her life. But before the inevitable sparks can fly, Jane starts sleeping with her now remarried ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin). Inevitable complications ensue.
As a foundation, this is workable, but underneath the film’s slick veneer something fetid lies. This is a Nancy Meyers film, after all, and It’s Complicated—like Something’s Gotta Give (2003) and The Holiday (2006)—suffers from the exact same problems as her previous output, right down to its banal title. Most of the film’s issues stem from the fact that the movie is peopled with completely unsympathetic characters with no anchor in reality. In Meyers’ universe, everyone drives costly cars, has exorbitantly fancy houses, wears expensive clothes, always has a glass of wine at hand (there’s more boozing here than in a W.C. Fields’ movie) and probably uses the French pronunciation of “croissant.” It’s a place where people eat lavender ice cream, take trips to the French countryside, and the only minorities we see work in the service industry.
Sure, all this bourgeois gallivanting can be written off as romcom fantasy and whimsy, but every character is so disconnected from even the vaguest sense of reality that it was impossible for me to feel sympathetic towards any of them. Everyone in the film is either smarmy or emotionally retarded or both. Jane, even 10 years later, isn’t over Jake, despite the fact that he’s both a lech and remarried (that Streep—through sheer power of charm—does anything with her character must be some sort of act of God). When Jane’s children—all full-grown—find out about her affair with Jake, their solution is to run away and have a pajama party at big sis’ house, where they talk about how they’re still not over their parents’ divorce.
The film is refreshing in its occasional sexual frankness—especially since it is centered around honest-to-goodness adults—and its refusal to completely cop-out. But this is Nancy Meyer’s we’re talking about, and she has a habit of undermining herself. I’ve heard her movies referred to as “architecture porn,” but it’s more a cross between Better Homes and Gardens and Skinemax. There’s no substance—no emotion—to any of it, just a lot of gloss. For some, this might be enough. For myself, it was just frustrating. Rated R for some drug content and sexuality.