Meryl Streep continues the foodie phase of her career in “It’s Complicated,” a cloying, self-satisfied, occasionally funny farce about an extramarital affair between formerly married fiftysomethings. Writer-director Nancy Meyers’ latest survey of the travails of the rich and pampered boasts a clever central premise and an enjoyably self-effacing comic turn by Alec Baldwin. But Streep, playing the best cook to hit Santa Barbara since Julia Child died there, laughs a lot more than the audience will, which is not a good thing. Universal should ring up solid holiday biz from a glossy confection that will find its most responsive audience among women of a certain age on girls’ nights out.
Set in that bicoastal world known best to showbiz folk of perfectly appointed California homes and first-class New York hotels, where characters’ only concerns are their own neuroses and libidos, “It’s Complicated” spins on the not-unthinkable idea that a relationship that withered and died over years of distrust, children and routine could suddenly revive again under illicit circumstances.
The situation at the outset has upscale bakery owner-chef Jane Adler (Streep) seeing the last of her three kids off to college and, with more contentment than apprehension, facing life alone in her sprawling hacienda. But the graduation of her middle child occasions a family gathering in Gotham that includes former hubby Jake (Baldwin), a gregarious live wire who, at nearly 60, has a young sex-bomb wife, Agness (Lake Bell), and a 5-year-old stepson. An amusing early gambit has Jane and Jake encountering one another at a medical building where she’s gone to see a plastic surgeon and he’s visiting a fertility clinic.
In New York, however, a few drinks together lead the twosome, who have been divorced for 10 years, to do the nasty. Baldwin is a hoot enthusing about his reconquest, a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his face as he raves about how hot his ex-wife is, while Jane is both flushed and aghast at what she’s done, even as she later kvells to her egging-on girlfriends about how naughty she’s been.
Cute and clever though the plot may be, everything is played out in the broadest possible terms without an iota of nuance or subtlety. Characters rip, snort and holler, or at least make faces, in reaction to the slightest provocation — no one more so than Streep, who guffaws, slaps her hands together and otherwise gesticulates with amazed glee far, far more than called for by events. Charming and wonderful though her character may be, she carries pleasure with herself to an uncomfortable extreme, a trait exacerbated by Jake’s pages of dialogue extolling her outright amazingness.
Worse, her putative adversary, Agness, is made out to be nothing short of a wicked witch, bad-mouthed incessantly by Jake and, when briefly shown, issuing harsh commands to her husband. The three Adler kids are indistinctly written, which is nonetheless preferable to the buffoon of a prospective son-in-law John Krasinski is asked to play.
Also less than satisfactorily defined is the other man in Jane’s life. Adam (Steve Martin), an architect engaged to design an addition to Jane’s house, is a very straight, modest fellow who finds Jane the first genuine prospect he’s met since his own bruising divorce. The problem is he’s dull and sincere, a prototypical nice guy who doesn’t seem as though he could fill Jake’s shoes in the lust-and-fun department. Once she knew Martin was going to play the part, it’s too bad that Meyers didn’t rewrite it to make Adam a bit eccentric, impudent, secretly perverse — anything to give Martin something to play, other than a raucously funny scene in which Adam and Jane get stoned at a kids’ party.
So it mostly falls to Baldwin, who, despite all the fawning dialogue, has a blast as the paunchy, graying hound-dog and enthusiastically shares his good times with the audience. More than once, he strips down for action to shamelessly reveal his middle-age bulk (Streep shares these scenes but is more discreet), and the thesp’s comic timing is on the money.
Mostly shot in New York despite the predominantly West Coast setting, the pic comes in a deluxe package, with the utmost attention paid to detailing the many material delights of carefree wealth, while lenser John Toll, following the golden rule of old Hollywood studio cinematography, dedicates himself first and foremost to making the leading lady look effortlessly fabulous.