Saturday, January 9, 2010

IT'S (a little) COMPLICATED


She’s been divorced for ten years but now, on the eve of her youngest child’s college graduation, this intensely successful baker has started an affair with her ex-husband, even though she might be about to find romance with the architect who’s designing her new kitchen. See, that wasn’t so complicated, and yet Nancy Meyers, or some studio executive, has named the movie It’s Complicated anyways. The title is a clue to the true intentions of the movie, though, which is in the spirit of screwball comedies and door-slamming farces where the plot is only as complicated as the characters choose to make it, as they go so far out of their way to hide what they know, or think they know, that they run the risk of running right back into the truth. That spirit is very much present in the movie but Meyers hasn’t a good enough script to stand proudly among the traditions she intends to uphold. To these ears, the movie is probably pretty flat on the page. What saves the movie, making it a very pleasurable and enjoyable experience, is the sheer luminosity of the stars involved.

The baker is Meryl Streep, genuinely radiant here, bouncing delightfully off of the ex-husband played by a pitch-perfect Alec Baldwin. Together, they take the drabbest scenes and spruce them up through line readings and twinkling eyes into something approaching believable. They sparkle and crackle their way through the plot with cheery good-nature and glistening precision. They’re impossible to hate. Steve Martin as well, as the architect, turns what could have been a one-note milktoast role into a small work of much charm. Continuing the trend of elevating the material is John Krasinski, as Streep and Baldwin’s soon-to-be-son-in-law, getting some of the biggest laughs with his charm and delivery, rivaling all on screen for sheer likability. The movie’s at its best when it winds up the characters and lets the personalities bounce off each other in believably entertaining ways. The funniest moment involves an unexpected combination of characters getting stoned at a graduation party, which also makes it the funniest on-screen drug trip of the year.

It’s too bad Meyers doesn’t do her cast any favors by shooting the film as blandly slick as possible and stranding them in palatial settings of barely believable wealth and prosperity. She even mucks around with the plotting until the long sizzling of the plot comes to an unsatisfying rushed ending that seems to cut corners and denies the opportunity for the truly marvelous payoff that feels owed. The way the whole situation is finally unveiled to all of the characters is too neat and tidy, and the choice Streep makes ultimately feels too hurried. But even all that doesn’t take the shine off of the good times. It’s a very slight, completely inconsequential movie, but it becomes an enjoyable one through the seemingly effortless work of its stars.

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