Avaqilable this week on DVD, “It’s Complicated,” starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin, might once have been called a drawing room comedy, as it involves a number of romantic/sexual misunderstandings, witty dialogue, and a complicated plot. As updated by writer/director Nancy Meyers and set in contemporary Southern California, the genre proves its staying power: it will appeal primarily to folks old enough to have shared some of its characters’ situations, foibles, and troubles.
Probably best known for “Something’s Gotta Give,” a comedy about love among the middle-aged, Meyers works much the same territory here. As Jack Nicholson did in that 2006 film, Alec Baldwin has hooked up with a younger woman. Then he meets and falls in love (and into bed) with a woman of about his own age, as Nicholson did with Diane Keaton. The difference is that, instead of being the mother of the younger woman, the new lover is his own ex-wife.
Jane (Streep) and Jake (Baldwin) have been divorced over ten years when the movie opens with their son’s college graduation in New York. Unencumbered by his young trophy wife (Lake Bell), lawyer Jake and restraunteuse Jane dine, drink, dance, and, uh, sleep together. Back home in L.A., Jake presses Jane (literally) to continue the affair. After consulting with her shrink—did I mention this is an update?—she agrees.
Complications ensue, of course, and that’s where the fun really begins. Their daughter’s fiancé, Harley (John Krasinski, of TV’s “The Office”) accidentally discovers they’re fooling around. Jane’s architect, Adam (Steve Martin, cast somewhat against type), a fellow divorcee, is attracted to her and vice-versa. The unusual triangle thus formed gives the film some of its funniest moments, as when Adam spies on the other two having dinner in Jane’s kitchen or, even better, when Jane and Adam smoke the joint Jake gave Jane and turn up stoned at her son’s party. (Rumor has it that this scene earned the film its otherwise unmerited “R” rating, since they suffer no dire consequences—unless you count the munchies and resultant caloric intake.)
Streep and Baldwin carry most of the film’s weight, and they do fine, though it’s hard to believe that an accomplished, independent woman like Jane turns all mushy and giggly as soon as her smirking ex starts nuzzling her. Krasinski takes a minor role and makes me miss him when he’s not on screen, and Martin makes me forget that he’s, well, a wild and crazy guy. Meyers continues to refine her comic touch as both writer and director, though she has a ways to go on comic timing, accomplished through film editing: some moments that ought to be funny never quite get off the ground.
Still, her use of the musical track, both background and “on screen,” is subtle and consistently amusing or poignant, and she generally keeps the comic pace lively. Best of all, I never quite knew how the tangle would be teased out until near the end, an unusual tension in a romantic comedy. The “R” rating is appropriate in the sense that this is a film that adults will enjoy—and get—more than teens. Simply put, people of a certain age will get some laughs with “It’s Complicated.”