Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Surprisingly Adult Film With No Real Easy Answers: It's Complicated Succeeds!

The Good: Funny, Angsty, Good idea, Interesting characters, The acting
The Bad: Some of the characters conform to the plot too easily, A few less inspired minor actors' performances.
The Basics: It's Complicated delivers on its title by presenting a couple, ten years divorced, who finds themselves coming back together in a movie with great primary cast performances and complexity that is satisfyingly adult.

Lately, I have been not so keen on building up a backlog with reviews. With movies I see, I pretty much want to review them right away and with my new laptop (Da Vinci!) I have that ability. So, the screen has barely faded in my room and my wife is sitting beside me checking her e-mail on her laptop and I am beginning my review of the film It's Complicated, which we just finished watching together. I'll admit; I had some trepidations about watching this adult comedy with my wife because I have been divorced once and I'm never eager to stir up any issues with my wonderful new wife that might inspire any feelings on her part of Second Wife Syndrome. So, I was pleasantly surprised when we discovered that It's Complicated involved adult situations and a level of complexity both of us were stimulated by without making us question our partnership. That's always refreshing!

Actually, It's Complicated came to us at a good time. For as much as I enjoyed younger casts doing goofy things under the guise of love, like in Friends With Benefits (reviewed here!), I had a hankering for something a little more adult. Similarly, while I enjoyed the tone of Crazy Stupid Love. (reviewed here!), I was very much in the minority in that Ryan Gosling's character's arc didn't interest me and I was much more interested in how Steve Carell's character would adapt to his divorce. So enter It's Complicated, a film that lives up to its name by presenting the complexities of divorce in a way that largely works. Writer and director Nancy Meyers has a knack for creating questions without clear-cut answers and then not simplifying the responses to them.

Divorced for ten years, Jane and Jake nevertheless run into one another, be it at parties for old, mutual friends or their son's graduation from college. While Jane notices Jake's younger wife and is still unsettled by her, it is nothing compared to how Jake begins to notice Jane once again. Between having a wife who had an affair on him once upon a time and a five year-old demon child, Jake begins to see Jane as salvation from his situations. And one night in New York City, after getting very drunk, the two have sex and Jake makes it clear he wants more.

Jane's life then begins to spiral out of control because she is both interested in Jake and his advances back into her life and the attentions of her architect, Adam. Adam is designing the dream addition to Jane's house while struggling with is own divorce, but he begins to send very clear signals to Jane that he would be open to a romantic relationship with her. What follows, then, is Jane trying to wrestle and reconcile her feelings for Jake, her feelings for Adam and the needs of her adult children while Jake comes to realize he has to take a stand in his own marriage.

It's Complicated works because it does not chicken out on the big questions or the serious issues set up at the outset of the film. Instead, the movie does not fall into the familiar paradigm of "woman must choose between old familiar romantic character A and dashing new character B." As part of talking about the film afterward - and yes, this is a film one is likely to want to talk about with their partner! - we agreed that one of the real strengths of the film was that it did not play to familiar patterns. My wife liked that it did not include a stereotypical tear-jerker scene late in the movie and I enjoyed the fact that there was so much consistent angst throughout the movie that they could not have pulled off such a moment if they had tried. In other words, the movie effectively illustrates how difficult divorce can be and how awkward finding romance afterward may be; we were not invested in who Jane chose (Jake or Adam), we were more along for the journey. And more important to us over who Jane chose was whether or not Jake left his wife.

Despite the indecision causing a real sense of consistent angst throughout the movie, It's Complicated is actually very entertaining. Steve Martin's Adam is utterly charming and Meryl Streep plays Jane with wonderful body language and expressions. Indeed, the scene where the two of them play their characters stoned is very funny. Alec Baldwin is charming as Jake and he has moments where he brings depth and complexity to Jake with a simple movement of his eyes which Nancy Meyers is adept enough to capture. John Krasinski steals his scenes as Jake and Jane's soon-to-be son-in-law, Harley, who is given the most consistent humor to deliver. The four of them carry most of the movie on the acting front and make for an enjoyable viewing experience.

But the younger cast is much more shaky. While Hunter Parrish does fine as Luke, the son of the ex-couple, Zoe Kazan and Caitlin Fitzgerald are particularly bland as Jane and Jake's adult daughters. While Krasinski dominates his scenes, Fitzgerald is stiflingly dull as his character's fiance. Her idea of emoting seems to be staring at the camera and tilting her head and it comes across poorly.

My other nit with the movie is actually in how Jane's friends react to her telling them she is having an affair with Jake. Jane has three friends she tells and while one expresses some trepidation, within two minutes, she is shouting "details! details!" I didn't buy how all of her friends immediately glom onto the idea of her having an affair with her married ex-husband. Not one had a moral core that rejected this idea?! Jane is so conflicted about it, she begs her therapist to give her direction, yet her friends are not so much supportive but nonentities that they leap on the relationship more wholeheartedly than Jane herself.

On DVD, It's Complicated comes with a featurette on the creation of the film and a lone commentary track with production staff, both of which are informative but fairly typical for this type film.

Ultimately, It's Complicated is an adult dramedy that has humor and fun, but is more often conflicted. The main cast gives vibrant performances that make the viewer believe so many intelligent people could engage in behavior that might otherwise seem reprehensible. The magic of Nancy Meyer's script and film is that they are presented in such a fashion that the characters never seem cheap and the complexities of adult relationships never seem to be swept aside for the cheap laugh or the easy answer.

For other films featuring Meryl Streep, please check out my reviews of:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Out Of Africa
Kramer Vs. Kramer
The Deer Hunter


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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