Meryl Streep can't seem to get out of the kitchen. This past summer she embodied world-famous chef Julia Child on the big screen. Now she's Jane, a divorced mom of three grown kids, who runs a popular bakery in Santa Barbara. Though Jane has complete command of her kitchen, whipping up delectable cakes and croissants without even peeking at a recipe, her personal life is more like a fallen soufflé.
Ten years ago her 20-year marriage crumbled when her husband Jake (Alec Baldwin), a successful attorney, had an affair with a much younger woman. Then he had the audacity to marry the beautiful Agness (Lake Bell), and thus bring the other woman—and her hyperactive (read: hellion) grade-school-aged son—into their yuppie social circles.
At the outset of the film, Jane is packing her youngest child off to her first year of college. With all three of her kids now out of the house, Jane's truly alone for the first time. Without her fulltime motherhood gig and without the companionship of her children, she seems a bit lonely and lost.
Jane does still have her friends, three fellow 50somethings who gather regularly with her dressed in J.Jill attire and accessorized with glasses of Merlot. If these women seem like clichés of yuppie women of a certain age, then I guess it's only appropriate that they give clichéd advice: Get a man. Or, more specifically, they advise: Have some sex.
Jane mostly brushes off their words, intent instead to finally put an addition on her house. The one that finally gives her a real kitchen at home.
But then an opportunity to heed her friends' advice arrives by surprise. Out of town for their son's college graduation, Jane and Jake—her ex-husband—share drinks together. Then dinner. Then "dessert." While Jake is thrilled and continues to pursue Jane even after the weekend, Jane is much more reluctant about now becoming what she used to despise: the other woman.
To make matters even more complicated, while Jane's trying to decide if there's still life in her relationship with her ex, her sweet architect, Adam (Steve Martin), starts pursuing her as well.
This is the kind of female-fronted story we've come to expect from writer/director Nancy Meyers. In her previous films—What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday—Meyers has explored women's angst about their relationships with men: the precarious balance of power, the unfair double standards of aging. Her most recent, The Holiday, offered more light-hearted fun than soul-searching message. And It's Complicated follows even more in that vein.
Instead of taking a look at the real and sometimes amusing complications of mid-life romance and ex-spouse relationships, Meyers seems content to fall into well-worn clichés (Jake has heart problems during a mid-day tryst with Jane, people stumble onto each other naked in awkward situations) and odd diversions (Jane and Adam get high before attending a local graduation party for her son).
Streep and Baldwin—and Martin in his smaller role—do a decent job with the material they're given. We like these characters somewhat more because it's them. And we are perhaps a smidge more forgiving of Jake's smarmy selfishness and Jane's blindness to these qualities because these actors kind of feel like old friends. Both potential couples have good chemistry with one another.
Unfortunately, the other characters aren't fleshed out as much. Besides Jane's aforementioned trio of clichéd friends, Jane and Jake's kids feel like they were purchased from a J. Crew catalog—all WASPy attractiveness and all-American style. Agness, Jake's fling-turned-second-wife, is mostly legs and pouts. John Krasinski, as Jane's son-in-law Harley, has a bit more to say. He's a likable comic relief from this family of soap-opera drama, but we've seen him in this role before: as The Office's Jim. Instead of balancing out the crazy of boss Michael Scott, here he balances out the crazy of his horny mother- and father-in-law.
But beneath the laughter, or supposed laughter, there's a disturbing picture of selfishness here. Jake seems to mainly just want sex with someone familiar and his age. We don't see him wrestle with what he's doing to his wife at all. Apparently he learned nothing from the fallout of his infidelity to Jane ten years earlier—and doesn't seem very attuned or sensitive to Jane's current guilt. His speech defending their affair, though I'm sure it's supposed to be funny, is really quite sad. (As is the fact that this movie releases on Christmas, and will no doubt be touted as grown-up family fare.)
Likewise, Jane's friends all tell her she deserves this relationship, that she was there first. Even her shrink tells her "it can't hurt." Only Jane and Jake's kids seem to respond with any sense of the gravity of what these two are doing, though they kind of overreact—as if they were all eight years old.
While we do see some fallout by the end of the movie, and our two main characters start to own their decisions a bit, it's a bit too little and too late. As Jane wisely says toward the end, "Knowing how to be divorced is nearly impossible." Likewise, being able to ignore any sense of morality, not to mention the many clichés, and mindlessly laugh at this romantic comedy is nearly impossible as well.Discussion starters
- Why do you think Jane and Jake start up their romantic relationship again? What's the draw for each of them?
- What do you think of the advice Jane's friends give her? What advice would you have given her?
- List some of the common justifications for bad behavior that we see throughout the movie.
- How do Jane and Jake's actions—both divorcing and attempting a reunion—impact their kids?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
It's Complicated is rated R for some drug content and sexuality. The drug use is by Jane and Adam before they attend her son's graduation party. Jake gave Jane the joint a few days earlier, hoping it would loosen her up a bit. At the party, she also shares the joint with Jake and then with their son-in-law Harley, who accidentally stumbles on them lighting up in his guest bathroom. The drug use is played for full comic affect. The sexuality is between Jane and Jake—while Jake is married. Next to no one acknowledges that this infidelity is hurtful and wrong. We also see Alec Baldwin's naked behind. And Jane's friends have some pretty catty conversations about sex.
Photos © Universal Pictures
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