Movie Mom

Movie Mom


It’s Complicated

posted by Nell Minow
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for some drug content and sexuality
Profanity:Some strong and crude langauge
Nudity/Sex:Sexual situations and explicit sexual references including fertility issues and adultery
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, smoking, marijuana, medication with side effects
Violence/Scariness:Health issue, unhappy confrontations
Diversity Issues:None
Movie Release Date:December 25, 2009
DVD Release Date:April 27, 2010

Forget the accents. Forget the anguish, the steely resolve, the iambic pentameter. All hail Meryl Streep for what she is best at — comedy. She spins screenplay straw into movie gold, turning yet another fungible Nancy Meyers saga about a beautiful and accomplished middle-aged woman triumphing over a womanizing man into a miracle of warmth, heart, and wisdom just from the power of sheer acting genius and being the truly and deeply glorious person that she is.

Meyers does have a talent for, in the words of one of her movie titles “What Women Want.” She knows that there is an eager audience for a story about a middle-aged woman who is so universally adored that even her ex-husband, the hound who left her for a gorgeous young woman (cue the slo-mo stroll in the midriff-revealing sarong) can’t get enough of her and admits that he was crazy to let her go. What could be more satisfying than that?

One of the wisest and most entertaining books ever written about movies is Stanley Cavell’s Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, where he discusses the power of movie romances that bring estranged couples back together. As beguiling as it is to think of the freshness of first falling in love and the pleasures of learning everything about one another, there is something even more deeply satisfying about the idea of falling in love with someone with whom there are no illusions, and especially having that someone fall in love with you. Anyone can fall in love with what we think we know or with someone we’ve seen at his or her best. But when it’s someone we’ve seen at his or her worst; that’s got to be love for sure.

Or, it can be something satisfying in a different way — payback.

Streep plays Jane (as in plain?), divorced for ten years from Jake (Alec Baldwin, perfecting the art of the appealing but infuriating male) finds herself in bed with him following a tipsy dinner when they are in New York together for their son’s graduation. She can’t resist the chance to feel pursued, validated, desired. The spark they once had is still there. And she would be inhuman if she did not feel a little triumphant about his preferring her to his beautiful young wife.

But there are (grown-up) children to consider. Being back together frees Jane to admit that she was not blameless in their break-up. It allows her to allow Jake to see her (literally) as she is, not as he remembers. And it opens her heart to some other possibilities, including the shy architect working on the addition to her house — including the dream kitchen to replace a kitchen already pretty darn dreamy.

Meyers, astutely profiled by Daphne Merkin in the New York Times Magazine, seems to be the only person in Hollywood today interested in and capable of connecting deeply to an audience of women who want more from a movie than frothy rom-coms or sex and shopping. Rare in the world of chick flicks, there are no trying-on-clothes montages or makeovers. Her movies feature capable women with good friends and loving families. The most preposterous fantasy in her films may not be the gorgeously decorated settings or even the swains in pursuit but the unequivocally devoted friends and especially children and even the prospective son-in-law — take another look at the way Jude Law’s little girls fall into instant love with Cameron Diaz in “The Holiday.” Like Jane in this film, who considers and then rejects the idea of a little cosmetic surgery, Meyers’ women start out fine with who they are and then get even more so.

Streep is what Meyers’ women want to be — supremely warm and nurturing (watch the way she keeps feeding everyone exquisite but apparently completely non-fattening meals), self-aware, and able with a little adorable struggle, to impose some boundaries in a very familiar way. She fills in what Meyers’s slightly calculating formula leaves out and makes this movie as guilty a pleasure as those chocolate croissants she whips up that make her date fall for her as we already have.



  • Alicia

    Nell, you said:
    “(Meyers) knows that there is an eager audience for a story about a middle-aged woman who is so universally adored that even her ex-husband, the hound who left her for a gorgeous young woman (cue the slo-mo stroll in the midriff-revealing sarong) can’t get enough of her and admits that he was crazy to let her go. What could be more satisfying than that?”
    I think this is exactly right, and you have pinpointed the source of Meyers appeal, especially in “It’s Complicated,” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” My family and I went to see the movie over the weekend, and we all liked it, even my brother. Partly it was the excellent acting by all involved, especially Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep, with great support from Steve Martin. As an older single woman, I admit I walked out of there asking myself “Where is my Steve Martin?”
    I suppose the question remains, whether the fantasy of the older woman being sought after by men of her own age ever comes true in reality. It would sure be nice if it did.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks so much, Alicia. And as for your question, I think the movie also stands for the proposition that the man who is not wise enough to appreciate a mature woman doesn’t deserve one.

  • Sleepyndoc

    I took my 14-year old daughter to see this movie. She’s seen a few R-rated movies with me. I always read the reviews here so I’m prepared for what will come up – thanks Nell! When she asked to see this, I thought why not – it’s good for a teenager to realize that even when you’re 50+ you 1) still have sex and 2) don’t necessarily have the whole relationship thing worked out. I’ve received some criticism for taking her, but given that most of her friends have seen The Hangover and Wedding Crashers – I thought this was much more acceptable! We laughed so hard we had tears in our eyes. We’ll need to rent this when it comes out on DVD so we can hear the parts we couldn’t hear over the laughter in the theater. We had some good conversations on the way home as well – about the drinking and pot smoking, but also about our totally different interpretations of Jake based on our life experiences (or lack of!) Personally I’ve seen PG-13 movies that I found much more offensive. This movie showed a woman who had spent 10 years successfully on her own and wasn’t desperate for a man in her life, suddenly confronted with romantic choices she never thought she’d face again. I found it very entertaining and uplifting – even if my daughter and I disagreed about the ending.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks very much, Sleepyndoc! This is a great comment and I agree with your assessment. I’m looking forward to seeing it again. I understand how a child, even a teenager, would want the parents to get back together (I call that the “Parent Trap” syndrome), and thus might be taken in by Jake’s superficial charm and neediness. Those of us who have been around a little longer appreciate the men who really listen, as Steve Martin’s character does from the very first time we see him, even when Streep’s character doesn’t listen to him.

  • jestrfyl

    There are all sorts of pornography. Having just about finished a kitchen redo – from the studs out – I now acknowledge Kitchen Porn. My wife has poured over hours and hours of kitchen photos examining and assessing each detail. Kitchen Lust is real – and seems to fill a need for some folks of a certain age. So employing this sort of urge and itch as the means for establishing a new lusty, relationship makes special sense. My wife has informed me we WILL be watching this on or near her birthday (having missed it in the theaters because of all of the energy poured in our kitchen), and now I think I know why. Romantic comedies are one thing, but add it Kitchen Lust and it is a whole new genre!

  • jestrfyl

    There are all sorts of pornography. Having just about finished a kitchen redo – from the studs out – I now acknowledge Kitchen Porn. My wife has poured over hours and hours of kitchen photos examining and assessing each detail. Kitchen Lust is real – and seems to fill a need for some folks of a certain age. So employing this sort of urge and itch as the means for establishing a new lusty, relationship makes special sense. My wife has informed me we WILL be watching this on or near her birthday (having missed it in the theaters because of all of the energy poured in our kitchen), and now I think I know why. Romantic comedies are one thing, but add it Kitchen Lust and it is a whole new genre!

  • Melissa

    My husband and I went to see this for a date movie one week and we laughed so hard we cried. I think a lot of people forget that Streep is at her best in comedy. She understands timing so well she makes it look effortless.
    I have been contemplating letting my oldest, who is 15, see this, and I think I will after reading sleeyndoc’s comment. She has not seen any R rated movies,but I believe this is a postive movie, esp for a young girl soon to be woman to see. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin were terrific also rounding a great cast.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Melissa! I agree with you about Meryl Streep! And I agree with you that your daughter will enjoy the film. Let me know what she thinks!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Philip

    CAUTION: Spoilers…

    CAUTION: Spoilers…

    CAUTION: Spoilers…

    I’m glad that ice cream shops have chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, since folks don’t always agree on which is best. The same thing applies to movies. In this case, I had a “sour” taste after seeing this movie, instead of a “sweet” one.

    My biggest objection was the “papering over” of Jake’s behavior as a cad. The lack of concern for the 5 year old Pedro was absolutely appalling. Jake (Alec Baldwin) first abandons Jane (Meryl Streep) and his three children, then he abandons Agness (Lake Bell) and Pedro (Emjay Anthony).

    The screenwriters apparently think that because Pedro was fathered by a man other than Jake, and/or because Agness has behaved badly, and/or because Pedro is somewhat of a brat, that somehow Jake has license to abandon yet another family.

    Add to that, Dr. Allen (Peter Mackenzie), Jane’s therapist, states that adultery is neither good nor bad, but worth “exploring”. Such an attitude is immorality disguised as amorality.

    • Nell Minow

      Good points, Philip, thanks.

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