It's Complicated


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It's Complicated
"Meryl Streep looks more and more fabulous in each new role and is clearly having the time of her life here."

We're used to seeing films about the difficulties involved in searching for love. We're used to films about problems in the run-up to the altar, and about problems making marriages and long-term relationships work. But it's not so often that we encounter films about being divorced - and when we do, they're rarely what anyone would call 'feelgood'.

With this in mind, Nancy Meyers has set out to do something quite different. Though It's Complicated checks all the usual romcom boxes, its underlying story is quite unusual and touches on a different set of emotions as a result. It's also a bit different in that it deals with older characters who are still excited about romance and sex. The issues it raises in the process clearly meant more to older viewers in the screening I attended, and it's not surprising if some of its subtleties bypass younger viewers. It's one of those films that you'll get more out of if you've found yourself in similar situations, though few people will have been through anything quite like what its heroine experiences.

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The leading lady in question is Jane, a restaurant owner and mother of three grown-up children, played by Meryl Streep, who looks more and more fabulous in each new role and is clearly having the time of her life here. Not that Jane is initially a happy character. Her youngest daughter is in the process of moving out and she's feeling lonely. Everything changes one night in New York when she accidentally finds herself having a drink with her ex husband Jake (Alec Baldwin), leading to a few more drinks, a dance or two and, unexpectedly, into bed.

Ten years earlier, we are told, Jake left Jane for Agness (Lake Bell), a much younger woman who has since acquired a demanding child. Now his new marriage is failing and he's rediscovering not just his lust for Jane but also his longing for the family he was once a part of. Will she take him back and share a happy ending? Maybe; maybe not. Jane has also caught the eye of shy architect Adam (Steve Martin), a man with whom she has fun and who is clearly more caring and reliable than Jake knows how to be. After getting rid of her troublesome husband once, should she really allow herself to be seduced by him again?

The success or failure of this film hinges on Streep's central performance. Vivacious and passionate, her Jane is easy to engage with, easy to feel for, and she's also smart, which is really refreshing in a romcom heroine. Though she may be confused about her feelings she's incisive in her approach to sorting them out. Less successful is Baldwin, who may be convincingly charismatic but whose acting range seems to encompass little else; he is helped by the fact that his character is supposed to be shallow. Martin, in his turn, is understated, which works for the character but sometimes threatens to make him fade out of shot.

In places the film is sharply written, with a lively wit that makes it a joy to watch. In others, it drags on too slowly, threatening to become mired in melancholy, or it relies on cliches regarding which Meyers really should know better. There's a touching scene when Jake tucks in his new wife's child and we are gently reminded what's at stake for the boy in all this, but scenes featuring Agness are too heavy-handed, not helped by Bell's leaden performance. Sure, we need to be on Jane's side, but a smarter director would have made us understand her vulnerability too.

As a result of this awkwardness and a general sense of overfamiliarity, It's Complicated never achieves the heights it aspires to. Still, it works well enough as a piece of feelgood entertainment that will have some viewers laughing all the way home.

Reviewed on: 07 Jan 2010
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It's Complicated packshot
A middle aged woman embarks on her first affair - with her own ex-husband.
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Director: Nancy Meyers

Writer: Nancy Meyers

Starring: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Emjay Anthony

Year: 2009

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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