December 31, 2009

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It’s Complicated (R)
Alec Baldwin has a hot young wife but really prefers the company of Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated, a tasteful kind of porn for the middle-aged woman.

You know those joke books labeled with some variation of “porn for women” and filled with pictures of men vacuuming or offering chocolate while they inquire about your day? This is an entire movie of that. We get scenes of Meryl Streep relaxing in a warm tub (after which Alec Baldwin delights that they can have fun together even without sex) and of the amorous couple enjoying a lunch in bed while watching Oprah. Let me say that again — While Watching Oprah.

And Jane (Streep) is a woman who knows how to engage in comforts. When she comes home from a day of hard but rewarding work at her gourmet market/bakery, she can relax in one of the many tastefully decorated but still comfortable rooms in her beautiful Santa Barbara home which features a spacious backyard and a vegetable garden that would make Michael Pollan weep with joy. Sure, her husband of 20 years, Jake (Alec Baldwin), left her 10 years ago to marry a trampy-looking young 30something (Lake Bell) but Jane’s survived beautifully, raising children who are all at some stage of being college educated and, when she needs company, throwing casually elegant dinner parties for her chummy lady friends (Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson and Alexandra Wentworth).

At the college graduation in New York of son Luke (Hunter Parrish), Jane is again able to gather her whole family together including youngest daughter Gabby (Zoe Kazan) and older daughter Lauren (Caitlin Fitzgerald), who is always accompanied by her doting fiancé Harley (John Krasinski). While the kids attend a party, Jane finds herself alone at the restaurant bar of the hotel where she’s staying. Also, it turns out, where Jake is staying, alone, his wife having stayed back in California. Jake joins Jane for a drink and then for dinner — they drink and talk and eat and enjoy each other’s company. Jane’s not dating anyone at the moment, Jake is miserable at home (his wife has him going to a fertility clinic to facilitate the conception of a child he doesn’t particularly want). As a glass of wine turns into several bottles, this former couple goes from flirting to full-on hanky-panky.

The next day, Jane’s not so sure how she feels about what has happened, but Jake is eager to make their one-night-stand the start of a resumption of their relationship. While Jane is delighted at the fact that her ex is now sneaking around to court her, she’s not so sure that more Jake is what she needs in her life, particularly as she begins a friendship with the sweet Adam (Steve Martin), the recently divorced architect who is helping to build an addition on her house.

Because, not only is this movie about an older woman enjoying a fling with one man while getting the attentions of another, it’s also about a truly beautiful California ranch home getting a massive new kitchen and a comfy new master bedroom suit. So, some real estate porn along with your romance porn.

And as with traditional porn, I feel like complaining about the lameness in the dialogue here (this is the rare case where the clips you see in the trailers aren’t nearly as witty in the context of the movie) or the stilted quality of the characters is very much beside the point. It’s like saying the cinematography in Jenna Jameson’s last movie wasn’t up to snuff. This movie does, finally, everything to Baldwin — glamorizing his good looks while also showing off his flaws, pairing him with the 60-year-old Streep who is played as the same age as his 51-year-old self — that is usually done to the female characters. And the movie is aggressively kind to Streep (never shows her naked, puts her in the most flattering light). That and the enjoyment that this kind of overt leveling of the romance-movie playing field is the point here, I suspect.

And I can appreciate the fun in all this, the sense of chocolate mousse decadence that comes with watching it, and yet I can’t quite say that I enjoyed it. I’m not sure if this is generational — do I identify more with the generation of the bewildered children of these Boomer parents than I do with Streep? Or is it Streep’s character that keeps me from reveling in the escapism and the way that, in order to make her character so big, the movie made everyone else small and flat?

So I’m left to be the killjoy, the calorie-per-serving warning, for this gooey dessert. But that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t partake and enjoy if everything I’ve described here sounds like a breath of cocoa-scented fresh air. C+

Rated R for some drug content and sexuality. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, It’s Complicated is an hour and 58 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.