The only thing complicated about Nancy Meyers’ latest rom-com is its depiction of familial relationships. Why do Meryl Streep’s adult children keep on cuddling and squeezing one another? Why does her 21-year-old son climb into bed with his older sisters? And why is her son-in-law so touchy-feely? These questions, among many others relating to the dynamics of this family go unexplained, which is a shame because they are the only interesting elements of It’s Complicated. Everything else is as obvious as you can imagine. Only the weird bond between Streep’s family members can muster a raised eyebrow.
Of course it’s not Streep’s family that gave me the willies, but that of her character Jane, a fifty-something divorcee and highly successful chef. She divorced Jake (Alec Baldwin) more than a decade ago, and he has since shacked up with the much younger Agness (Lake Bell) and her young son Pedro. Relations between Jake and Jane, once strained, have eased in recent years. Their common link is their children, of whom they are obscenely proud. Their eldest, Lauren (Caitlin Fitzgerald) is engaged to the charming Harley (John Krasinski); son Luke (Hunter Parrish) has just graduated from university, and the youngest, Gabby (Zoe Kazan) is finally leaving home. Jake and Jane travel from Los Angeles to New York to celebrate their son’s graduation and discover their old feelings resurface. Uh-oh!
A fling begins. Jane is now the other woman; Jake’s mistress; the lucky recipient of a Baldwin Booty Call. She’s filled with shame; he’s filled with pride. Neither can deny the sparks flinging back and forth between them. The thing is, she’s recently started seeing a sweet-natured architect called Adam (Steve Martin) on the side. Who will she choose? Wow, it really is complicated. Actually, it’s not. At all. In fact, it’s apt that this film features so many scenes of Streep baking pastries, as the script is as cookie-cutter-conventional as it gets. There are little-to-no surprises to be found in Nancy Meyers’ screenplay; augmented by her typically bland direction.
There are undeniable moments of hilarity, thanks mainly to the performances of Streep and Baldwin. They both give it their all, and remind us just how powerful charming actors can be. They, along with Martin, make the film worth watching. Martin is as good as he can be in a role that requires him to primarily imitate a droopy-eyed puppy. Still, it’s hard to fathom the thought process behind casting the legendary Martin as the straight man. It’s almost as incredulous as casting the 51-year-old Baldwin as a frequently-shirtless romancer. Oh wait…
I don’t have a problem with the fact that these characters exist in that fantastical Hollywood world in which everyone is really rich and have outdoor cocktail parties every weekend. I can accept that. What I cannot accept are fraudulent characterisations of human relationships; no one acts in this film the way anyone ever acts in real life. When this is the case in a film built around adult relationships, we have a big problem. Towards the end of the film, Jake and Jane have a conversation that dances close to emotional honesty; the first and only moment that elevates the film from its many robotic machinations. I prayed that the film ended here, before Meyers could tack on a conventional happy ending. It was to no avail. I guess that scene of emotional honesty was just a fluke.
Speaking of fraudulent characterisations of human relationships, at one point in the film, Jake and Jane enjoy a movie night with their kids. The entire family huddles together on a couch, shares a big blanket and enjoys some homemade popcorn. The kids are always grinning, quipping, laughing, and grabbing one another. At the end of the film, when Jake and Jane’s affair is inevitably revealed, we are asked to believe that the children are emotionally devastated; the lingering after effects of their divorce a decade previous. Please. These kids are emotionally unstable? Just because Meyers’ script says they are doesn’t make it so. Maybe the family can spend one of their movie nights watching Precious if they really want to see an unstable family. The only affliction heaped upon these kids is their lack of personality.