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Sex with an aging ex: Cue the obvious laughs. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin star in It's Complicated.

Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Copyright: © 2009 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

2 out of 4 stars


It's Complicated

  • Directed and written by Nancy Meyers
  • Starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin
  • Classification: 14A

It's Complicated is really very simple. Once again, just as she did in Something's Gotta Give , writer-director Nancy Meyers has given a middle-aged, single woman everything her heart desires: rewarding career, terrific children, fabulous house, supportive friends, financial independence and two successful men competing for her sexual favours. And the problem is? Well, a woman already empowered to the nth degree struggles comically to reach the nirvana of n + 1 - that's the complication. This is wish-fulfilment fantasy, where the laughs lie in sorting out an embarrassment of riches.

In short, Meyers makes crowd-pleasers. And if you're a dues-paying member of the crowd, you'll certainly be pleased. If not, don't bother complaining, because all the stuff that seems annoyingly contrived is a calculated part of the populist appeal. To carp about it is like dumping on a Walmart greeter - somebody's just doing his happy-face job. No doubt, Meyers does her job pretty well. She's a clever contriver, adept at adding a patina of apparent relevance, even a veneer of feminism, to situations that are otherwise bogus and artificial.

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With that in mind, meet Jane Adler (Meryl Streep) and prepare to go through her heart's-desire checklist. Yes, she's got the satisfying job; she's got three kids all grown-up and wonderfully loving; oops, she's only got a near-perfect house, although a planned renovation of the kitchen will soon fix that tiny flaw; she's definitely got a nest of close friends, and don't worry if you don't find the girl-talk hilarious - laughing uproariously, they're their own best audience.

Now bring on the adoring guys, with this twist - one of them is her ex-hubby Jake (Alec Baldwin). Ten years ago, the bastard left her for the inevitable trophy bride, but the trophy has dulled since. Now he wants back in the familiar fold of Jane's familiar folds. Tipsy one night, she tumbles, has sex with him, then runs to her shrink for validation, frets about whether her motives are merely vengeful or more loftily self-fulfilling, then tumbles again. Postcoitally, arising from between the sheets, Jane is shyly reluctant to display her naked wares. Alas, Jake has no such compunction, nor does Meyers, about showing his mounds of hairy flab - visually, it's enough to give double standards a bad name.

Adoring guy No. 2 is Adam the architect (Steve Martin), the brains behind her new "dream kitchen." Well, Adam and his brains may lack Jake's brawny charm, but he gets to deliver The Line, the bon -est of mots that, in movies past, would always be spoken by lovely Miss May to lucky Mr. December. But here that clever Meyers puts The Line into a man's mouth, when Adam says to his mature Eve: "Your age is one of my favourite things about you." With that wish fulfilled, Jane rewards his good heart with a time-honoured trip to his demanding stomach - damned if she doesn't bake him up a feed of chocolate croissants.

The love triangle complete, there remains only the teensy task of filling the rest of the rom-com's gaping two hours. No problem. Jake is the brunt of a Flomax joke at his piddling expense; the girls are reconvened for another session of hilarious talk; then Meyers really gets down to contrived business with one of her big set-piece scenes where, attending their son's college graduation party, it's the oldsters who get high on some dynamite weed. Lest the crowd miss its laugh-out-loud cue, Jane points us in the right direction when she exclaims, "Wow! Fun isn't overrated, is it?" Thanks for the reminder.

Streep issues it with the same giggly breathlessness that marks her approach to most everything here. This time out, her talents enslaved by the material, La Streep is content to narrow the performance to the role - both are forgettably small. By contrast, Baldwin just bulls his way through the piece, and the strategy proves not only wise but winning. His take on Jake, an unapologetic old rogue as insouciant as his bladder, is the one shard of honesty in the picture.

Reduced to playing the straight man, Martin simply disappears behind his squinty eyes, conceding that, when deprived of his usual mannered shtick, he's got nothing left to offer. I lie. Occasionally, his expression almost seems sour, as if his face can't quite disguise what his mind is thinking - perhaps the dark thought that, sometimes, fun is overrated.

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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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