Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 27, 2010)
While Hollywood usually believes that only youth-oriented flicks succeed, director Nancy Meyers proves the exception to that rule. Of Meyers’ five directorial efforts, three earned more than $100 million, and the two that fell far short of that goal – 2006’s The Holiday and 1998’s remake of The Parent Trap - featured main actors under 35. (Way under in the case of Trap’s pre-pubescent, pre-meltdown Lindsay Lohan.)
Of Meyers’ three other films, two featured leads in the 50-and-up cohort: 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give and 2009’s It’s Complicated. With a 44-year-old Mel Gibson and a 37-year-old Helen Hunt, 2000’s What Women Want was the biggest smash of the bunch, but the other two did quite well with their AARP-eligible actors.
In Complicated, we meet Jane Adler (Meryl Streep). Overall, her life seems to be good, as she runs a successful bakery, is close to her three grown kids, has plenty of friends, and even remains on positive terms with her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin). However, middle age has hit Jane hard. She considers plastic surgery and feels lonely now that all the kids have flown the nest.
The family unites in New York for son Luke’s (Hunter Parrish) college graduation. Jane gets stuck with a dinner alone – until she spies Jake, going solo since his hot young wife Agness (Lake Bell) tends to her five-year-old son Pedro (Emjay Anthony). Lots of wine flows, hormones rage, and Jane and Jake reunite in the sack.
Jane regrets this, but it reignites old passions in Jake. He actively pursues his ex and attempts to get them back together – sort of. Jake doesn’t actively discuss leaving his shrewish wife, but he becomes totally obsessed with Jane. She resists the reunion but it brings her back to life, so she goes with the flow.
In the meantime, Jane gets to know Adam Schaeffer (Steve Martin), the architect who works on major additions to her home. She doesn’t sense it, but Adam clearly feels very attracted to Jane, and this creates a potential third side to the love triangle. Most of the film concentrates on Jane’s relationship with Jake, however, and her reaction to that reunion.
This is the part of the review where I say “clearly I’m not part of the film’s target demographic but…” (You knew I had a big “but”.) Yes, it’s very true that Meyers and company didn’t create Complicated for people like me. At 42, I’m perilously close to the film’s age demographic, but the presence of my “Y” chromosome leaves me out of the story’s focus.
Not that Complicated doesn’t attempt to placate a male audience. The inclusion of Martin and Baldwin feels like sop for the guys in the crowd, as their comedic credentials appear likely to give the film an appeal that spans beyond its obvious “chick flick” audience.
It doesn’t work. Oh, I’m sure the aging females who can identify with Jane and her adventures will find plenty of satisfaction in this film, though I’d like to think they’re smart enough to see through the flick’s obvious wish-fulfillment tendencies. Complicated teeters on being a remake of Something’s Gotta Give. Their stories differ in many ways, but both exist as Porn for the Menopausal, as they feature 50-something women being fought over by various suitors, one of whom gives up on young hotties to go for the middle-aged babe.
When I re-read my review of Give, I realized that I actually kind of enjoyed it. This surprised me, as I figured I’d regard it the same way I view Complicated: as a silly piece of fantasy for the Oprah set. I suppose I gave Give a positive rating partially because I expected nothing of it. I knew it wasn’t for me, and I wasn’t wild about the cast; I like Jack Nicholson well enough, but I can’t say Keanu Reeves does much for me, and I usually actively dislike Diane Keaton.
On the other hand, I think highly of the three Complicated leads, so even with my awareness that I’m not a menopausal female, I thought it had a lot of potential to amuse and entertain.
Alas, it almost never approaches that potential, and the performances leave me cold. Streep seems to think she’s in the sequel to Mamma Mia! as she struts and camps up her part, while Baldwin essentially remains stuck in Jack Donaghy mode. Martin gets relegated to a relentlessly dull role, so he rarely gets an attempt to shine in terms of his comedic potential.
The supporting characters prove to be especially annoying. Agness is made into the kind of soul-devouring bitch to allow the audience to support Jane’s adulterous ways, and Pedro provides the kind of annoying, precocious tot who only exists in movies. The three Adler children are all in their twenties but they act like pre-teens; they’re so childish that they become consistently irritating even though we’re supposed to like them.
Without good turns from the cast to elevate the film, Complicated collapses under the tedium of its own forgettable story. It barely features a plot, as it mostly just provides shots of Jane’s Fabulous Adventures. She’s a whiny, self-involved character who exists mostly in that wish-fulfillment mode; she allows women to live vicariously through her fantastic house, wonderful bakery, and all those guys who want her.
So we just follow her path toward ultimate satisfaction, whether with Adam or Jake. In truth, the resolution never seems in doubt; I won’t reveal with whom Jane ends up, but it always appears pretty obvious. This means that the journey itself needs to offer its own rewards, and it can’t. It’s Complicated isn’t; it’s a simplistic take on relationships without the heart or flair to carry it.