She’s done it again. At sixty-one and amidst a rare flock of appealing movies,
Meryl Streep sold out theaters on Christmas weekend with the new comedy “It’s
Complicated.” With a hefty assist from Alec Baldwin who plays her ex, she
strides across the screen looking great, reveling in the role, and lifting the
movie beyond its actual value. How come the success?
For one thing, Nancy Meyers’ script is, as they say now, age-appropriate. Jane (Streep) and Jake (Baldwin) had been married for sixteen years before getting a divorce ten years ago. They meet again in New York City during the college graduation of their son Luke. Jake is now married to Agness (yes, double S), the trophy cliché who embodies all the problems of age disparity. They are not happy. The very sight of the former wife he once loved alongside his three fine adult children sends Jake into a black hole of longing. He will unload Agness and retrieve his family. Covering his options, he seduces Jane.
Because her actors are well into upper middle age and comfortable with it, Nancy Meyers has loaded her script with one liners about aging – “Don’t look, Jake, turn around; it all looks different when you’re lying down.” Alec Baldwin plays Jake as a big, awkward old whale of a man, perfectly content to erase his ego for this part. Meryl Streep’s expressive face is a great rejoinder to women who erase expression with plastic surgery. The supporting cast does a fine job, particularly John Krasinski as the fiancé about to enter the family. He rises to the comic occasion when he blunders into knowledge of the affair and must keep it to himself.
“All the things that tore us apart aren’t issues any more; they went away,” Jake intones. The movie posits that in such a time frame the troublesome details, tight schedules and demanding overload of the early years have evaporated. What better than to get remarried at 60? But there might be something better than stepping backward - Adam (Steve Martin), perhaps? He is the architect lurking at the edges of Jane’s marital melodrama. He is as calm and quiet as Jake is explosive. Credit Steve Martin here with playing it straight and leaving the mugging to Streep and Baldwin. He is welcome counterpoint to an excess of on-screen giggling. The movie opens with a prolonged scene of Jane’s friends indulging in an adolescent group chat. These women are just plain silly.
So what’s afoot here? From the laughter that rolls through the audience, it would seem there is a collective familiarity with the problems that accrue in middle-age marriage. It’s a been there, done that experience for anyone who recognizes the inevitable elements. Is anything more liberating than being old enough to recognize the humor in marriage problems? This movie promises that a rollicking perspective, on ourselves or others, can mean the end of anxiety. It is a huge audience hit.
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