Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.
It’s not so complicated. Not really.
Just round up gifted and charming comedic actors and rustle up a workable script for them. Then turn them loose.
That’s the formula writer-producer-director Nancy Meyers applied in “Something’s Gotta Give” and “What Women Want” and “The Holiday,” a trifecta of watchable, enjoyable romcoms.
She was at it again in 2009’s R-rated “It’s Complicated” and it paid entertainment dividends for a fourth straight time.
Meryl Streep stars as Jane, a divorced mother of three grown kids who owns a bakery-restaurant in upscale Santa Barbara, where she lives in an extravagantly well-appointed home. With her older daughter about to be married and her younger daughter off to college, she is now, for the first time, truly on her own.
She has a relatively amicable relationship with her ex-husband, Jake, an aggressive, charismatic attorney played by Alec Baldwin, who is married to a much younger woman (Lake Bell) and is stepfather to her five-year-old son. But with his youthful second wife pushing for them to have a child, one among a number of conflicts between them, this union is now problematic.
When Jane and Jake, booked separately into the same hotel for the college graduation of their son, spend an evening together, an innocent drink or two and a discussion of shared memories of their nineteen-year marriage surprisingly turns into a return to the conjugal bed — well, a bed, anyway.
Thus begins a passionate, clandestine affair in which Jane’s the “other woman” that they hide from not only his wife but from their children.
Simultaneously, Jane hires Adam, a soft-spoken, deferential, divorced architect played by Steve Martin, to remodel her kitchen. Jane and Adam are drawn together in a tentative, low-keyed way. But it’s enough to complete an unusual middle-age romantic quadrangle that includes an ex-wife as mistress.
With her clever premise as her trump card, Meyers knows that she is, as usual, writing about the casually wealthy and privileged, and she doesn’t apologize for it. This is the world she lives in and knows and makes movies about, which is fine. But it’s also a big part of the reason why the film registers as a fantasy rather than a slice of life. Most viewers will be entertained by her characters but will not relate to them or their lifestyle.
However, Meyers’ snappy dialogue, especially when delivered by this trio of consummate thesps, helps to sustain our suspension of disbelief.
In the pivotal role, Streep gives a natural, unfussy, radiant performance, and Martin does what he can with the little that’s asked of him in his oddly underwritten role. But Baldwin, throwing vanity to the wind and displaying razor-sharp comic timing, lights up the screen and brings down the house with a richly funny turn as a likable cad who’s doubly adulterous.
Fitfully funny and unfailingly fizzy, this fine farce is delivered in style by a quartet of skilled pros. Think of it as comedy insurance: you’re in good hands with “It’s Complicated.”
Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.
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