December 25, 2009

It's Complicated (12/25/09)

Lettergrade: B-

This isn't the kind of movie I'd normally go see (I couldn't talk my wife into Avatar or Sherlock Holmes), but it's actually not bad. It certainly is a weird one, though. It's an uncomfortable Midsummer Night's Dream / Blame It On Rio style sex farce involving two 60 somethings, Meryl Streep and Steve Martin, as well the 50 year old Alec Baldwin, who plays Streep's ex-husband / future lover as a psychotic mixture of his Jack Donaghy character crossed with an unnerving serial rapist.

While it feels like Steep and Martin are slumming a bit in this one, Baldwin, having long been identified with stage and film work until he began on 30 Rock in 2004, curiously feels like a TV actor giving a big, broad TV performance, laced with shameless Jay Leno style audience pandering. Nevertheless, the movie is surprisingly sensitive in places where you might not expect it to be, and although I wince a little at seeing a respected actress like Streep behaving like a boy-crazy school girl, it's hard to deny that the picture as a whole works.

Streep and Baldwin live a lavish, obscenely wealthy fairytale life in Santa Barbara, sharing custody of the children, the youngest of whom is getting ready to go off to college (or go from college to grad school or something - hell, I can't even remember what genders the kids are). The impending graduation causes Streep and Baldwin to spend more time together for the sake of the kids. That, when added to the pressure on Baldwin to have another child, as imposed by his freakishly manish 2nd wife (Lake Bell, soon to be seen in HBO's How To Make It In America), leads him to realize that he never stopped loving his first wife, and that it's completely appropriate to now hound and stalk her until she agrees to start sleeping with him again.

Now around this same time, Streep, who owns and operates a local bakery, decides that her amazing, unbelievable dream kitchen just isn't up to her standards, so she enlists a shy architect, played by the heavily be-cosmetic-surgery'd Martin, to design an even more ridiculously grandiose, cathedral-like one for her that's so goddamn big that they need to break ground on a new wing of her mansion in order to accommodate the fucker. Long story short... will she wind up with the terrifying, super-aggressive, crazy, adultering asshole who hurt her so deeply so many years ago, or will she finally forge a relationship with the thoughtful intellectual who understands and appreciates her? You'll have to sit through the movie's 2 hour, 15 minute running time to find out!

If the picture has some faults, they're all there in those last few sentences. The film's running time is painfully self-indulgent, particularly when you consider that this is a fantasy with only one clear outcome. Of course, the same is often true of most romantic farces, but the point is that the this picture could have easily lost 20 minutes or so of its total length and been much richer for effort. I firmly believe that the pleasure of watching a movie isn't so much in knowing what's going to happen, but in watching something that feels plausible and credible unfold, and really believing it. Again, this picture is largely able to pull this off (although the reactions of some of the children late in the movie felt a little bullshitty to me). There's a difference, though, between drawing something out for dramatic effect, and leaving the audience somewhat at sea, wondering when things will wrap up so they can go home or do something else. This movie skews toward the latter, of course, which is a real shame when you consider that there's very little to find fault with otherwise.

It's another movie from writer / director Nancy Meyers, who along with Something's Gotta Give has turned this kind of thing into a new sub-genre as well as her speciality. In spite of my tounge-in-cheek complaining about the fact that this is a movie about the romantic troubles of the repugnantly wealthy leisure class, I must say that in an age where movie stars seem to be getting younger and younger, it's nice to see a well-made picture about adults. That sort of thing only happens occasionally, and usually, for some reason, Jack Nicholson has to be involved: Something's Gotta Give, As Good As It Gets, About Schmidt, The Bucket List and even Terms Of Endearment, which was produced in 1983, back when Nicholson was only in his 70s. So to revise my statement, it's nice to see an adult movie about adults with adult problems, none of whom are Jack Nicholson.

Not being a 60 year old divorced woman (at least, not yet), I can't say that I fully understand what it might be like to be in Streep's shoes on this one. This picture probably wasn't green-lit with the 31 year old male demographic in mind. Nevertheless, the picture does get you to feel a great deal for the people involved and in a year where movies like Transformers 2 exhibit behavior that doesn't even get close to human behavior as I know it, it is something to be thankful for indeed.

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