Movie Review: It's Complicated

By Matthew Huntley

January 1, 2010

I heard that voice mail message you left for your daughter.

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It's Complicated couldn't be a more appropriate title for this unbalanced adult comedy. The story is full of situations that could potentially work for some people but not others, not to mention characters who are easily distracted and confused by what they want. It would be hard for them to sum up their problems with just one phrase, just like it's hard for me to tell you whether the movie is worth seeing. You see, it's complicated.

On one level, this is an intelligent film that deals with intriguing issues about middle-aged adult relationships. And yet, on another, it resorts to age-old, sitcom-level antics that don't quite gel with the more serious and reflective tones. Writer-director Nancy Meyers is obviously a gifted filmmaker but she doesn't quite have the confidence to let the grown-up situations carry the story. She relies on recycled visual gags that seem more at home in an America Pie sequel.

Meryl Streep plays Jane Adler, a successful chef and bakery owner in Santa Barbara, and judging by the looks of her property, she must be very successful, so much that she's able to afford an addition to her already luxurious house. Jane is also the mother of three and a divorcee. Her ex-husband is the slick but insecure Jake (Alec Baldwin), who cheated on her and has since remarried the younger Agness (Lake Bell), who now wants a second child (she already has one from a prior relationship), although Jake isn't certain he can handle another kid at his age.

When Jane and Jake both come to New York City for their son's college graduation, they cross paths in a bar, drink a lot of alcohol and sleep together. Jane brags to her girlfriends about all the sex she's having but says she's become the woman they all hate. What's interesting is Jane's psychiatrist tells her to keep the affair going because it's allowing her to open up and explore herself like she never has before. Plus it's letting her see what she really wants.

We see what he means. Jane does appear a lot happier and is suddenly glowing with confidence, but she has to make a decision about whether she wants to rekindle her relationship with Jake, who is willing to leave his wife (an avenue of the story that's never fully explored), or come back down to earth and start anew with Adam (Steve Martin), the architect overseeing the addition to her house. What intriguing about the screenplay is that it shows the pros and cons of both decisions and it's not completely one-sided. It was refreshing to not know whom Jane was going to end up with in the end, if anybody.


Another thing that sets It's Complicated apart from other romantic comedies is that Jane and Jake don't necessarily behave on impulse alone. They weigh their options and contemplate their decisions before making them (we don't expect Jane to seek advice from her shrink before proceeding). The film is also relatively honest about its characters' desires and insecurities. I sincerely believed Jake when he says he misses their time together and he's happy to be under the same roof with Jane and their kids. You can sense the loneliness and regret in his eyes. He lives up to the old adage of you not knowing what you've got until you don't have it anymore.

For all its truth and charming dialogue, It's Complicated also employs its share of idiot plot devices. For instance, we get the inevitable third-party character who learns of Jane and Jake's affair and must keep it a secret from others. In this case, it's their daughter's fiancé, Harley (well played by John Krasinski). Krasinski displays good comic timing and has a flare for being sweet and sarcastic at the same time, but even he can't enliven the scenes when he must make up words quickly to prevent his fiancée from finding out about her parents' secret. Would she really not believe something is up when Harley is tripping over his own words and behaving awfully suspiciously?

We also get the typical sight gags, as when Jake sneaks through Jane's bushes to eavesdrop on her and Adam (and falls off the edge of the house as a result). Or the classic bad timing incident when Jake lounges naked on Jane's bed and uses her laptop to cover up his genitals, only to be discovered by you know who. It's a shame the movie didn't have more inspirational comic moments like its pot-smoking scene, which is handled somewhat realistically (and Streep and Martin appear to have a lot of fun with it).

There are parts of It's Complicated that are serious and really explore the situations in which the characters find themselves. And it was a relief to find out they don't regret their behavior since it's made them learn and grow as people. Still, there are other parts that feel yanked right out of a sitcom and seem amateurish and lazy. Nancy Meyers and the cast show they're more than capable of making a good movie, and to some degree they have, but the goofy moments overshadow the more powerful and interesting ones. There are comedies that have proved you can mix the serious with the silly and succeed at both (Mrs. Doubtfire), but It's Complicated isn't so lucky. I found the silly moments to be too much of a distraction. It's funny, because the characters seemed to feel the same way.



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