Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"It's Complicated" (2009)

Starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers

I'm a dude.  There's not much getting around that.  You can tell just looking at this blog where my allegiances generally fall when it comes to movie genres, and the romantic comedy is not one where I spend a good deal of my time.  Now, I've outlined my reasons for this before, and those reasons still stand.  But I also said that when there are good examples of the romantic comedy, I'll happily champion them.

"It's Complicated" is one of those good examples.  Sure, it follows the same basic plot structure as nearly every romantic comedy out there, but it does so in such a warm and inviting manner that it becomes instantly likable rather than cloying and obnoxious.  A lot of that success has to do with the cast, which pulls off the fun, but imperfect, script by writer/director Nancy Meyers quite well.

Jane Adler (Meryl Streep) is an aging divorcee.  After ten years, she's lonely, but finally "over" her divorce, so she thinks.  Her business is going well, and she's got enough to begin construction on an expansion of her home.  Her architect, Adam (Steve Martin) is also divorced, and the two find themselves attracted to each other.

While attending the college graduation of her son Luke (Hunter Parrish) in New York, Jane encounters her ex-husband, and the father of her three children, Jake (Alec Baldwin).  Jake had left Jane a decade earlier after cheating on her with a much younger woman, Agness (Lake Bell).  Jake is now married to Agness and helping to raise her young son by another father.  After dinner and quite a bit of alcohol, Jane and Jake end up sleeping together.  Jane immediately regrets it, but Jake, on the other hand, is enthusiastic.  Jane, in her loneliness, and Jake, in his current unhappy marriage, suddenly see something in each other once more and strike up an affair.

Jane struggles to keep the affair secret from her children, and from Adam, whom she finds herself increasingly attracted to. When Jake finds out about Jane's budding relationship with Adam, he becomes extremely jealous and attempts to position himself as the prime candidate for her affections.  But as Jane's relationship with Adam progresses, things become more complicated each time she encounters Jake, and her kids are beginning to suspect that something is up. 

Ultimately, the success of "It's Complicated" lies in its cast.  While the three kids can be a bit of a wash, the main cast of Streep, Baldwin and Martin are pure gold, along with a great supporting role by John Krasinski.  Streep is herself a warm and likable presence, making Jane a character easy to feel for.  Though her character reaps the joy of her loving children and successful business, Streep also puts out a sense of loneliness; her character hasn't been in a relationship in years, focusing on her children and her work. 

Similarly, Alec Baldwin crafts a character who, in a film with a different tone, might be seen as entirely repulsive, but here seems fun and light.  It's a credit to Meyers and Baldwin that Jake doesn't come off as a complete douchebag, but rather as an object of some pity.  Jake left Jane a decade earlier for a younger woman, but now he's realized that he's not happy with her, either and once this affair begins, he seems to see it as a way out of his unhappy marriage.  One character remarks to Jane not to let Jake ask her to save him.  The case can be made that Jake isn't looking to rekindle a loving relationship with Jane, but rather that he simply needs someone to take care of him... and to have sex with.  In another film, this would be detestable.  But Baldwin is so much fun it's hard to hate him, and on some level it's obvious that he does care for Jane and for his children.  He even enjoys being in a family setting with them by the time the climax of the film rolls around, but it's just him taking advantage of a comfort zone being offered to him without having to do any real work.

The film focuses mostly on Jane and Jake, while Adam gets the least amount of time for what is an important role.  Steve Martin does a fine job, though, feeling like a very good match for Streep's character.  Adam is quiet and humble, but talented and sort of funny.  He and Jane share an obvious connection, and on some level just feel perfect for each other.  Adam is probably the most mistreated character in the entire thing, as Jane isn't sure whether to pursue a relationship with Adam or Jake.  Martin's character also seems rather sad at first, picking up slowly over the course of the film until he seems to be energized by his relationship with Jane.  His mistreatment at her hands is sad.

But these three also get big laughs together.  A sequence at Luke's graduation party in which Jane, Jake and Adam are all completely stoned is a riot.  This is the closest the film comes to outright slapstick, with the three characters acting just completely silly, while the rest of the film grounds itself and bases much of its humor in the dialogue.  John Krasinski gets laughs as well as Jane and Jake's future son-in-law Harley, who finds out about their affair but keeps it quiet.  Krasinski is hilarious on "The Office."  He should be in more movies.

"It's Complicated" is a fun romantic comedy.  It's fairly broad, not really putting out much in the way of subtlety, but it's warm atmosphere, talented cast and solidly funny script overwhelm its other obvious deficiencies.