All actresses should aspire to not only have Meryl Streep’s immeasurable talent, but her unstoppable career. Perhaps it’s her ability to play almost any role that elevates Streep as the exception to the rule of actresses’ struggling to remain relevant once they cross forty. It’s a cruel reality for actresses in Hollywood but Streep carries herself and her career like a woman a third her age. It’s with this in mind that she can play a woman defying the stereotype of the asexual post-menopausal woman by reigniting her sexuality in Nancy Meyer’s highly enjoyable new film, It’s Complicated. And while Streep is unsurprisingly fantastic, the best reason to see It’s Complicated is to watch Alec Baldwin give a performance that will give you another reason to lament his retirement from acting in 2012. Throw in Steve Martin playing a real character rather a cringe-worthy one from his recent family fare, and you have a movie that you may find yourself enjoying even if you’re not the intended audience.
Jane (Streep) is a woman who has lost her husband Jake (Baldwin) to the cliché of being left for a younger, more physically attractive woman. But while in New York for her son’s graduation she ends up sleeping with Jake after a night of drinking and discovers that with all their animosity left in the past, they can reconnect like they when they first met. Of course, in late middle age, Jane isn’t necessarily looking to be the proverbial other woman, but to refill her empty nest with a lasting, mature relationship. That possibility opens up with the sweet but timid Adam (Martin), an architect and fellow divorcee who’s designing her dream kitchen. When you go from being alone to having two men want you then the title.
The film is clearly designed for women of a similar age to Jane but it shouldn’t be so easily dismissed by those outside that demographic. It’s selfish and narrow-minded to only love movies that allow the wish-fullfilment of having the handsome, usually white, male protagonist enjoying superpowers or going on adventures and always getting the super-hot female lead, and then turn around and scoff at a older, female character who has her dream job and lives in a beautiful home. Movies allow us a vicarious experience and just because It’s Complicated may not appeal directly to the masses who pump up box office to obscene sums, doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie. In fact, It’s Complicated is kind of great.
Nancy Meyers’ direction may be mundane but she excels at writing confident, middle age characters who want to indulge their desires even though society may think it’s crazy to do so for someone their age. Again, re-enter Streep, the perfect actress to play this role because if there’s a performer in Hollywood who defies ageism, it’s her. She makes Jane an instantly lovable character who realizes the absurdity of reigniting her relationship with Jake but understandably falls for the odd juxtaposition of his rebellious charisma paired with the comfort of their old relationship. As an audience, we fall in love with Jake as well because Alec Baldwin is absolutely spectacular.
If it weren’t for Streep, Baldwin would walk away with this movie in his pocket, and he almost does in spite of her. Paired with his work on 30 Rock, Baldwin has embraced his comic side to an extent that he is now one of the funniest men working in Hollywood today. More impressive, while Jake has a highly seductive confidence, Baldwin isn’t doing a riff off Jack Donaghey. Jake is a bit of a goofball who clearly has regressed to his early 20s, ironically spurning his hot wife Agness (Lake Bell) in the process. Agness wants to get pregnant and Jake knows he’s too old for it so he wants both the freedom of youth without the responsibility his age requires. But he never feels despicable because he’s so certain in his feelings for Jane and the chemistry between Baldwin and Streep is so strong that you can’t help but cheer for them.
Playing the polar opposite of Jake is the affable but more low-key Adam and I always find it so refreshing to see Steve Martin play a real character rather than the pandering buffoons he plays in lowest common denominator family films. Jake and Adam both represent different paths for Jane and while it’s clear that Adam offers stability and the potential for a real relationship, it’s tough to begrudge Jane the freedom and liberating sexuality that Jake offers. It may be too much of a good thing for Jane but her dilemma comes pursuing her own desires even though it will inevitably hurt one of these men.
Lighthearted and mature, It’s Complicated is a rarity in mainstream movies so there’s reason to celebrate when one of these few films succeeds so well. Performances from the three talented leads, combined with some surprisingly raunchy humor and an enjoyable farcical turn from John Krasinski in a supporting role, make It’s Complicated a film that a wider audience can enjoy provided they’re willing to step outside their comfort zone.
Rating —– B+