It’s not complicated: this movie just sucks.
It’s hard to explain just how bad this leaden piece of filmmaking is. Watching It’s Complicated is like having the air sucked out of the room; the lingering feeling that nobody cared all that much is impossible to avoid (especially whenever Steve Martin is on screen) and to have them not care for two hours is a true slog. I’m not even talking about the film’s weird morality, just the stilted, stunted storytelling that sees the film stopping and starting again and again. There’s no rhythm and no pace, something that’s fatal to a movie that’s at least partially comedic.
This is the hallmark of the Nancy Meyers film. I don’t care that the movie is essentially fluffy fantasy material for Baby Boomer women uncomfortable with entering grandmotherhood – there’s plenty of room for good films that play to that audience. This is not one of those films. Boring and unfunny with occasional detours into weird, surprising crassness (if you’ve ever wanted to hear Meryl Streep talk about how she likes a man who shoots a lot of semen, Nancy Meyers is your woman!), It’s Complicated fizzles from the first frame.
Meryl Streep plays a woman in her later years, divorced and tremendously rich. She owns some kind of bakery/coffee shop and lives in a tastefully palatial Santa Barbara mansion – which she is having redone. Streep has a bunch of successful white children who have no problems, deficiencies or other serious issues (although one son is flamingly gay this family is the sort that has no problem with his sexuality, and his life seems to be unimpacted by his homosexuality), and she’s miserable. She hates living in this huge mansion all by herself, a problem that most of the audience surely feels on a keen, personal level. Oh the horror of being so well off!
But her loneliness is not to last. Her ex, played by a smarmy Alec Baldwin whose entire body seems to be nicotine stained (and yes, we do get to see his entire body), has come back into her life. He’s married to the young hottie who pulled him away from Meryl, but now he feels like he misses the good times. They jump back into bed (with barely an acknowledgment that him cheating with her is, on a basic moral level, exactly as reprehensible as him cheating on her). Meanwhile, she meets Steve Martin, the architect who is going to redo her home, and they begin sort of dating/courting in a very old fashioned way (which is meant to be seen as the other end of the spectrum from all the vigorous fucking she does with Baldwin). You can see how it’s complicated!
I walked into the film hearing plenty of praise about Baldwin’s performance, and he’s good. He’s not at the level of good he displays in even a bad episode of 30 Rock, but he’s good. So good, in fact, that the movie’s main conundrum feels obvious – just stick with Baldwin. See, Steve Martin’s wounded divorcee isn’t just reserved and well-mannered – Martin plays him as nigh upon comatose. To say that Martin is phoning in this performance doesn’t cut it; the actor is essentially text messaging it in. The only explanation is that he read the script; realizing that his character has nothing going for him, Martin dutifully appeared on set and picked up his paycheck, giving little else of his likable personality to the production.
Streep appears to be having fun in the way that people appear to be having fun in their vacation videos – you appreciate that this is nice for her but you just seriously do not care. This isn’t helped by the fact that I found her character to be supremely unlikable: privileged but whiny, wounded by cheating but only passingly worried about the implications of cheating with Baldwin (who, in his new marriage, has a fucking child), and wishy washy in a high school way with Steve Martin. Even disliking Steve Martin’s milquetoast character as much as I did, it comes across as endlessly cruel for Streep to just lead him on again and again. She’s a grown woman acting like a 15 year old with two dates to the prom.
All of this would have been at least tolerable if Meyers’ script had been funny, or if her directing had been interesting. The film is paced like menopause itself – slow and mean – and it stretches out to a punishing two hours. There are gags – the aforementioned sperm bit, Baldwin shoving his cock in Steve Martin’s face via webcam (these actually happen in the movie) – but they’re so out of place that even if they were staged in a funny way they’d be just weird and uncomfortable.
It would be nice to see a movie aimed at older audiences that’s about sexuality and romance and that had something interesting to say, or at least said something uninteresting in an enjoyable way. Romance is too often the purview of the young in cinema, and young love is stupid and heedless; there’s a lot to explore with people who have been around the block and know enough to fight back against the silly feelings, or maybe want to throw aside reason to embrace them. At any rate, the way an experienced person approaches love can be as cinematic as the way two teens do it. Or it would be in the hands of someone who wasn’t Nancy Meyers.
2 out of 10