It’s a depressing commentary on the state of American comedy that one as crass and clumsy as this one will probably be called sophisticated. Nancy Meyers, who wrote and directed it, specializes in lightweight romantic pieces, often about older folk, that add enough “naughty” elements that audiences composed mostly of women of a certain age will attend in sisterly groups and both blush and chuckle over them, and she’s been remarkably successful in securing the services of established stars to populate them. “It’s Complicated” fills the bill. But it’s not much more than an American version of a bad French bedroom farce.
Meryl Streep, continuing the cultivation of her fluffier side familiar from “Mamma Mia!” and “Julie and Julia,” plays Jane Adler, a high-end California baker who’s been divorced for a decade from Jake (Adam Baldwin), a lawyer now remarried to Agness (Lake Bell), a sexy but bitchy young thing with a bratty little son from a previous relationship. Jane and Jake are thrown together in New York City when they both travel to attend their son’s college graduation. Jake, who’s exhausted with his new spouse and stepson and is under any circumstances an extremely randy fellow, takes the opportunity to re-ignite the torch with his ex-wife, and before long they’re having an ultra-secret affair.
That complicates things for Jane, who must keep the embarrassing fling not only from their kids Lauren (Caitlin Fitzgerald), Luke (Hunter Parrish) and Gabby (Zoe Kazan), but from a prospective new suitor, architect Adam (Steve Martin), a guy bummed out over his own divorce who’s designing the extension to her kitchen.
That’s really all there is to Meyer’s script; the “complications” result from Jane and Jake’s attempts—sometimes successful, sometimes not—to get together or stay apart and to keep Agness and the kids in the dark about their canoodling, from Jane’s indecision about choosing Jake or Adam, and from her effort to keep the latter from knowing about her current indiscretion. Working these out involves lots of mugging and physical gyrations by Streep, who seems as though she’s playing to the last row of the furthest balcony in some enormous amphitheater, and even more pratfalls and disrobing by Baldwin, who appears to be game for anything but frankly grows less attractive with every article of clothing he removes. There’s also plenty of wide-eyed bewilderment from Martin, who’s pretty much wasted in a part that requires him to be uncharacteristically bland and nice except for one sequence that allows him to cut loose after sharing a reefer with Jane.
Even worse, though, is the stuff concerning the supporting characters. Agness is written as such an unpleasant person, barking out orders to Jake at every opportunity and indulging her kid to an absurd extent, that Bell can do nothing to make her palatable, and Jane’s giggly conversations with her female pals (Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson and Alexandra Wentworth) are presented as mid-life versions of sorority bull sessions—and come off as grotesque. The younger generation is just as poorly served. Wentworth, Parrish and Kazan are required to give us a bunch of amazed reaction shots, in which they’re so badly directed by Meyers that they look like deer trapped in oncoming headlights, and all of which are held too long, only increasing the feeling of amateurishness.
Then there’s John Krasinski. “The Office” is solid evidence that he’s a guy of enormous charm and comedic deftness, but apart from “Away We Go” his big-screen career has been unhappy thus far, and this movie continues that trend. He’s Harley, Lauren’s preternaturally good-natured fiance, who has the misfortune to learn the Adlers’ secret and must go through increasingly desperate contortions to hide what he knows from everybody else. Like Baldwin, Krasinski does what’s demanded of him, but it’s not a pretty sight to watch him acting all flustered and discombobulated. And just when you thought his embarrassment couldn’t get any greater, Meyers and costume designer Sonia Grande decide to dress him in tight-fitting girl’s pajama bottoms with hearts all over them. Poor fellow.
Otherwise “It’s Complicated” is a visually spiffy production, showing off the characters’ ritzy California abodes (Jane, of course, has a particularly well-tooled kitchen) at every opportunity, as well as the plush New York hotels they inhabit during their stay in the Big Apple. (Oddly enough, though, Luke’s graduation ceremony is cheesily staged.)
John Toll’s cinematography accentuates the elegant look, and follows the practice of cameramen of the last century in treating his leading lady with the ultimate discretion. Not only do he and Meyers show enormous deference to her in the bedroom sequences, putting the onus on poor Baldwin to exhibit skin, but she’s photographed in a haze that invests her with a near-aura. The score by Hans Zimmer and Heitor Pereira works overtime to try to convince us we’re having fun, to little effect.
There’s nothing complicated about Meyer’s movie; it’s just another serving of the same spuriously naughty hash she’s been dishing out for years—and you’d think by now even her target audience would be tired of it.