If the Golden Globe nominations are any indication (and they often are), Meryl Streep is looking at at least one Oscar nomination when they are listed February 2nd, 2010 – and Vegas odds are favoring a nom for her role as Julia Child in JULIE & JULIA. Although she has earned many nominations and statuettes in her career for serious roles or biopics, she showed last year in MAMMA MIA! that she can do lighthearted fare as well. Nancy Meyers’ IT’S COMPLICATED is another such example, with Streep playing an aged divorcee bouncing between a new beau in Steve Martin and a backslide to her ex-husband played by Alec Baldwin: coincidentally two people who will be on-stage at the Kodak during the Academy Awards as co-hosts. And when you’re making a comedy, these two are great stars to whom you should hitch your wagon.
Streep plays Jane Adler, owner and operator of a bakery, who is still getting used to her ten-year divorce from her husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin). This is an even more difficult process as she must continue to see him at gatherings of their mutual friends; he with his younger, sexy wife Agness (Lake Bell) in tow. However, in a meeting in New York for their son’s graduation that shows the importance that alcohol plays in bad decisions, Streep and Baldwin begin an affair, which Streep immediately and comically regrets. Alec Baldwin plays the conniving, convincing ex-husband, who uses his lawyer-speak to convince Streep to continue the affair, despite her misgivings – she is also given the green light by her shrink (Bruce Altman). While this goes on, as the kids try to figure out the new amicable relationship between their parents, Streep also indulges in a flirtation with her architect, Adam (Steve Martin). However, as most affairs go (at least the one’s you hear about) the truth comes out to all affected parties and Streep has to try to keep the family together and also move her life forward… and as you might think, sometimes those two desires conflict.
This film addresses an issue I’ve often wondered about: Can two people – once married, now divorced – having shared a life together just shelve those feelings they once had and not allow them to flare up again? And when they do flare up, what does that mean? This film handles those questions with the maturity you would expect from its director (who last showcased mature relationships in SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE), with the humor we’d expect from its cast. Meryl Streep plays a myriad of emotions, from initial depression with a touch of Empty Nest, to the drunken glee/immediate regret of the tryst with Jake, to embracing the affair and having fun with it, to the giddy school girl dating Adam. Alec Baldwin channels a bit of Jack Donaghy from “30 Rock” but mostly acts like a horny frat boy, which works for laughs in this framework of older people. And Steve Martin plays the lovable schlub, reserved for most of the film, with only a couple scenes played for big laughs and his romance with Streep is sweet. Supporting roles, such as the children and Streep’s counsel of girlfriends, are played as typical for the rom-com, with a stand out in John Krasinski as the fiancé to one of Streep’s daughters who discovers things he’d rather not. Although I caught him once falling into old “Office” habits as he looked at the camera once after an awkward situation.
Meyers knows this age group and she knows women, and her writing comes through impeccably in the situations she designs for her characters. One disservice the marketing did for the movie, however, is the placement of most of the funniest elements into the previews. The serious emotional aspect of the film is also interesting enough to capture the audience and there was still no shortage of good laughs throughout. The theater I watched it in had some loud laughter and a few of the women, as they walked out, had tissues to their faces. We laughed, we cried and in my book, that makes Meryl Streep and Nancy Myers a good team. Hopefully for the Academy Awards, Martin and Baldwin make a good team as well.
Linguistic side note: Alec Baldwin says “OMG” in the movie. This works for a laugh at his ridiculous attempt to act young, but seriously, no one should use acronyms in conversation. I was at dinner with a girl who said “BRB” as she left the table once…making me wish she wouldn’t.