By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Think about it. We two are lucky. The odds of taking part in a blissful, ‘til-death-do-us-part marriage are infinitesimal. Nonetheless, almost to a man, and a woman, folks strive to be in Cupid’s line of sight. Indeed, so hardwired to this goal are divorced Jane (Meryl Streep) and Jake (Alec Baldwin) that they’re willing to try it again, with each other, yet.
Putting them through the romantic wringer in “It’s Complicated,” director-writer Nancy Meyers does all but speculate the Vegas line on these two grabbing the brass ring on the second go-round. Glimpses of classic screwball comedy mixed with sitcom sensibilities and the shtick that is signature Meyers (“Baby Boom”-1987) achieve fairly funny results.
But the chief calling card here, distinguishing the effort from so many similar, mediocre romps, is the dramatis personae. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin as the double dog dare, star-crossed and twice smitten pair, nearly elevate the material one full rung more than it deserves. Both are able to inject a creditable, engaging gravity to the farcical doings.
In other words, we care. Oh, not necessarily about Jane or Jake per se, but certainly about the compelling predicaments they bring to life in their alternately rollicking and piteous tumult through the wiles of amour. While there have been situations where so-so writing has hampered La Streep (“Death Becomes Her”-1992), such is not the case here.
Though apparently content in her new life, perhaps the divorcée will never fully recover from the marital failure. OK, we forgive her the million-dollar heartbreak trappings…the sprawling Santa Barbara manor and the ideal, career-affirming gourmet foods/bakeshop in town. The fact is, she loved, come rain or come shine, and then he cheated on her.
But part of what makes it so complicated is that the cad, played to vulnerable-as-a-fox perfection by Alec Baldwin, is so darn likable. Mr. Baldwin should devote the rest of his career to acting only with great actresses. It brings out the Franchot Tone and/or Walter Pidgeon in him, an Almost Leading Man quality that thrives on great team players.
Cheering and booing the re-wooing couple from courtside seats are the damaged urchins, Lauren (Caitlin Fitzgerald), Luke (Hunter Parrish) and Gabby (Zoe Kazan). But while they have something to say, either it’s their affluence, spot-on California argot or the Oprah-ization of American dysfunction that makes it all seem trite and inconsequential.
Still, Luke gets indirect credit for bringing Mom and Pop together…again. It happens in New York, and not without a sweet note of hopefulness when, on the eve of sonny boy’s graduation (looks like from Columbia), the two find themselves in the hotel lounge, abandoned by the brood. And undoubtedly like the first time, it begins with hanky-panky.
Initially we’re all for it, save for one sticking point. Jake is remarried, to a damsel named Agness, several years his junior. That makes him an adulterer yet again. But hey, Wife #2 cheated on him once and has a little tyke named Pedro to prove it. In the rationalizations of Moviedom, that almost makes this affair with his ex-wife OK, if not exactly moral.
Besides, they have history. They make a nice couple, and we can see why they originally wed. Of course when it comes to why they ultimately broke up, at this juncture we don’t know the half of it. So let’s just complicate it a tad more by throwing in a new suitor for Jane’s affections. Enter stage left, Adam, her sensitive architect played by Steve Martin.
With the comical and serious ingredients now assembled and a dash of philosophy generously sprinkled in for seasoning, the tale begins to churn. Figure on a lot of the usual comic conventions to pad a rather thin plot. But while often predictable, only the more skilled soothsayers will successfully predict who, if any, her Lady Fair shall choose.
Meanwhile, we are pretty much being charmed by the courtship of Jane and Jake, essentially a seriocomic update of love among the Baby Boomer generation. Born from experience, new modes of the mating dance are introduced. But far more infatuating and funny are the ploys and stratagems that doubtless haven’t changed since both were teens.
It’s as cute as it is confounding. Laughing at the heart’s intrigues, while no answer to one of life’s biggest enigmas, is consoling. It allows us to acknowledge en masse this mystery only we humans share. But no need to get esoteric about it if that’s not your cup of love potion. While certainly “It’s Complicated,” in good part it’s also simply entertaining.
“It’s Complicated,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Nancy Meyers and stars Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Running time: 118 minutes
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