*It's Complicated (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Nancy Meyers probably wasn't going for irony with the title of her new comedy It's Complicated. If you've followed her career over the past 30 years, you'd realize that "complicated" isn't exactly the word that best describes her work.
That's going to come off as a snide swipe, which truly isn't the intention. Ever since her first screen credit in 1980 as part of a writing team on a surprise hit called Private Benjamin, Meyers has built one of the most impressive résumés of crowd-pleasing comedies in recent decades. As writer, director or sometimes both, Meyers has given us Baby Boom, remakes of Father of the Bride and The Parent Trap, plus What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give. She's not edgy, she's not groundbreaking, and she's not going to inspire a generation of new auteurs, but she's figured out something few have — how to make a whole lot of people laugh a whole lot of the time.
It's Complicated returns to Meyers' successful formula of adults pretending to keep it together while actually turning into basket cases. The occupant of the basket in this case is Jane Adler (Meryl Streep), who thought she had life figured out 10 years after her divorce from Jake (Alec Baldwin). But her youngest son's college graduation and a looming empty nest drives Jane into a fling with a married man — and that married man happens to be Jake. The old fires seem to rekindle, but Jane wonders whether the new/old relationship is wise, especially when a nice guy like Adam (Steve Martin), the architect working on her house, is available.
The setup is vintage farce, and Meyers knows exactly how to pitch the required scenes. The Office's John Krasinski gets a great moment as Jane's son-in-law-to-be, desperately trying to keep his fiancée (Caitlin Fitzgerald) from spotting her parents during a hotel rendezvous; Baldwin enjoys sneaking around jealously while Jane entertains Adam. The big showpiece is classic Meyers: Jane and Adam show up stoned at the graduation party and enjoy themselves way too much.
Most of these scenes work not because Meyers is an innovator, but because she has such a keen sense for working with actors. Martin, who played in her Father of the Bride films, shows the same combination of warmth and loose-limbed physical comedy here. Baldwin has demonstrated his comedic chops on 30 Rock, but Meyers gets a slightly different side from him. And Streep takes on the Diane Keaton role of endearing neurotic with a down-to-earth appeal.
That's part of Meyers' secret: Audiences like her movies largely because the characters in them, even the cads, are so likeable.
Critics, not surprisingly, have failed to be quite as enthusiastic, and it's easy to understand why. Her gags are not generally subtle ones — straight-laced folks getting high, or people getting caught naked at inappropriate moments — and her sentimentalism is just as obvious. She's also not the most efficient filmmaker out there, letting scenes drag on past the point where they've really served their dramatic purpose.
But is It's Complicated satisfying, both as a comedy and a character piece about grown-ups not always sure how to behave as grown-ups?
Most definitely. Nobody's going to teach a course on Nancy Meyers movies at film school, but studios are going to keep hearing the cash register ring when she makes them — and the reason why isn't complicated.