Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Queer New York Review: It's Complicated

Posted by Beau RN

(Meryl Streep from "It's Complicated" by Universal)
"It's Complicated" is the new film from Nancy Meyers staring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, and then a bunch of other people, most notably, John Krasinsky (from 'The Office' fame).  As the Four Word Film Review put it, "Streep's sex with ex" though I'd also tip my hat to "More dick Jane fun" (because Streep's character's name is 'Jane', you see.)  Essentially Jane is taking her sweet old time to get over her divorce from Baldwin's cheating, puffy lothario ten years earlier. Just when she's ready to move on, thematically represented by the building of a kitchen and bedroom she's dreamed about but put off for the last ten years, using Steve Martin's architect for the work, she has a drunken bedding of Alec in his swank NYC penthouse hotel room. Hilarity and pathos mush this dog-led sled forward for the next hour and a half.

This is less a review about "It's Complicated" than it is a love letter to Meryl Streep.  I have a deep, undying love for Meryl that goes beyond reason or sense.  So much so that I even gave her a pass for "Mama Mia" just because she seemed like she was having fun and wanted to have a month or so on a gorgeous island in the sun and who am I to piss on that?  She is, for me, unwavering divinity and I can find nothing more appealing than sitting in a darkened theater and watching her perform in or as anything or anyone.

The movie itself is really just a frame around Meryl Streep.  At 60, she's playing the strong, vulnerable, independent, divorcee who has made a success of her love of food and catering and is getting her romantic side back.  At any other decade before this and certainly with almost no other actress, this movie would not be nearly as enjoyable or believable, but now that we are in a post-Cougar fugue, the healthy post-menopausal desires of the female are not only relevant but empowered and encouraged.  I was amused to find the plot move way past Jane just getting her groove back to focus on a situation that I thought possibly very real: what if, as Baldwin's character ruminates, both he and Streep are now the people, ten years later, that they'd wanted each other to be when they got divorced.  What if they needed that ten-year hiatus to become these people and now their relationship was ready to have them back? It's a fascinating examination on what it means to move beyond the crazy, relationship-crashing drama of younger people to a more mature, introspective review with two people who are open enough to be ready to take one another back because they're just good together.

There really aren't good answers in this movie, I'm sorry to say.  Without spoiling it, Alec Baldwin's infidelity as the rationale for the earlier divorce from Streep's Jane coats the issue about whether people can change and grow up with a more suspicious light than had they divorced because they just grew apart. Throw in Lake Bell's much younger wife to Alec's Jake and the thing is taking a clearly marked, wide off-ramp into Cliche.

Steve Martin was just average, almost unremarkable, in the role of the architect and prospecting paramour in the Streep-Baldwin love triangle.  He was more melancholy then I expected for such a wild and crazy guy though this charcter's background called for it.  I'm still not used to Martin the Serious Actor rather than the comedian.  I suspect he got the part because of the verve and energy he brought to one scene in particular with he and Streep at her kid's graduation party.  Baldwin, likewise, does OK but as a "30 Rock" fan, I kept expecting more Jack and anything less left me wanting more Jack.  For as radiant as Streep's Jane, was, I couldn't get into Baldwin's Jake.  It was almost as if the movie itself was trying to decide whether it was going to be a drama or comedy and couldn't decide but hadn't committed fully to the dramedy moniker either.  It was a little of this then would zing over to some full out farcical comedy then zing back to melancholy introspection.

The weirdest, most disjointed part of the movie for me, which of course got played up in the trailers, was the three lady-pals of Streep.  They were featured at the beginning and then totally disappeared.  What could have been a funny girlfriend movie and might have picked up more of "The Women" groove, seemed to be left on the editing floor.  It was unfortunate because even in their two brief scenes with Streep and the gals, you could see the range of personalities that would have acted as Streep's conscious and made for some great scenes, I think.

As I said, the power of this movie for me was Meryl Streep, beginning, middle, and end.  She was literally radiant in this movie with beautifully soft-focused close ups, coiffed flowing hair, and killer locations including a stunning French-provincial themed home and restaurant which she fit perfectly in.  I kept wondering to myself if this wasn't just a camera following around Meryl Streep being herself in a fantastic environment that fit her like a glove.  The movie script sings under her language both verbal and body.  She is the woman of women for 2010 that I love seeing on screen which I think says more about me moving into a new decade of my own life than much of anything else.  And she really does rescue this movie because after everything is said and done, the movie rightfully focuses on her and lets her breathe life into Jane.

As I am fond of saying in these days of $13 or more movie tickets and readily available home-viewing options, "It's Complicated" is more a "Netflix" rental than a "See it in the theater" movie.

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