Does Nancy Meyers hate women? The thought ran through my head not very long into It's Complicated, Meyers's biennial stocking stuffer about the romantic trials and tribulations of obscenely privileged and narcissistic Southern Californians. Once more into the breach goes Meyers to show us what women really want, this time with Meryl Streep as a Santa Barbara restaurateur "of a certain age" faced with a smattering of life-altering crises: the fading of her youthful visage; the empty nest as her youngest child departs for college; and, in willful defiance of the down economy, an impending addition to her already enormous home. (But won't that make her empty nest emptier?) She is also, like most of the female protagonists in Meyers's films, a highly strung, self-pitying, sex-starved nag defined expressly by the men in (or out of) her life, despite her resolve to be an independent woman. It's complicated, indeed.
Not that Meyers — a global brand whose films have surpassed $1 billion at the worldwide box office — is particularly more charitable (or honest) when it comes to her male characters, who are on hand mainly to act like pigs, usually by ignoring radiant women of their own age in favor of hot-to-trot chippies, only to belatedly realize how good they had it in the first place.
In It's Complicated, Streep's Jane Adler has been sidelined by her philandering lawyer ex, Jake (a puffy Alec Baldwin, giving a ham performance and looking like one, too), in favor of the thirty-something Agness (Lake Bell), who, in the natural order of the Meyers universe, is a ball-busting gold-digger eager for Jake to sire her child. (Cut to fertility clinic waiting room jammed wall-to-wall with similar May-December "romances.") When Jake and Jane cross paths at their son's New York college graduation, it isn't long before they fall back into each other's arms — and into bed — while Meyers's shopworn comic tropes fall into place: naked fifty-somethings examine their flab and contemplate plastic surgery; naked fifty-somethings feign horror at the sight of fellow naked fifty-somethings; naked fifty-somethings have heart failure during foreplay. And, just for good measure, everybody must get stoned.
I found it mildly depressing to see Streep, a spry comedienne in the films of Albert Brooks and Spike Jonze, hurtling through this gauntlet of strained whimsy, her every toothy smile and throaty chortle more affected than Sophie Zawistowski's Polish accent. That was before I realized that Jane's soft-spoken, silver-haired divorcé architect, Adam, was being played by none other than the live-wire Steve Martin, in what may be the most anesthetized, emasculated performance he has ever given. (The Cheaper by the Dozen franchise is a movable feast of comic invention by comparison.) Then I was really depressed.
In a key moment of It's Complicated, Jane frets over a gourmet dinner for Jake, only to have him to stand her up. Cue montage of a forlorn Streep wrapping up leftovers and blowing out candles. Meyers supplies a reason for Jake's absence, but the real explanation is this: She wouldn't know how to write the scene in which he actually shows.
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