As Leslie Bennett's article in the January Vanity Fair pointed out, Hollywood has recently discovered its audience is not made up entirely of teenage boys interested in gothic dismemberment and fart jokes. The reemergence of Meryl Streep, 60, as bankable at the box office has helped prove that women of a certain age also frequent movie theaters.
Welcome to director/writer Nancy Meyers' world. It's the stomping ground of prosperous middle-aged women with Pilates-bodies, chic reading glasses, perfect kitchens, and cashmere throws draped across cozy sofas tailor-made for conspiratorial best-girlfriend gossip sessions. A place where the women, despite their professional standing and plush lives, still suffer the man trouble of any romantic-comedy heroine half their age.
But with the exceedingly clever, life-affirming Meryl Streep at its helm, this middle-aged archetype is allowed to burn brightly in Meyers' wickedly funny, goofy romp which is packed with dirty jokes, war-between-the-sexes slapstick, and one-line zingers, like a Judd Apatow movie — albeit one with a womanly sensibility.
Jane (Streep) is one of Meyers' sunny, consummately overachieving 21st century empty nesters: a yuppie bakery owner in a plush California Valhalla with three devoted, beautiful grown children, a gorgeous house, and a set of witty girlfriends. Jane's dissatisfactions are small: her eyelids are droopy, her love life is nonexistent, although the divorced and wounded Adam (Steve Martin), an architect working on an addition to her home, could turn out to be the man to fill that void. Meanwhile, Jane maintains a friendly but cautious attitude around her ex, Jake (Alec Baldwin), who left her for a much younger woman.
But Jane's equilibrium is shattered when she hooks up with wily, cocksure Jake in New York City during their son's college graduation. The sex is good, and it comes with the added benefit of cozy familiarity. The pair embark on an affair, silver-haired he-devil Jake grinning like a shark, and Jane guilt-plagued and determined to end it, despite the delicious pleasure of her rekindled sex life.
The principal charms of It's Complicated are, of course, its leads, Streep and Baldwin, comically aligned in the manner of Streep and Stanley Tucci in Julie & Julia. Age hasn't taken away Streep's lit-from-within incandescence or the appeal of that infectious, throaty laugh. And as his tenure on 30 Rock has proven, Baldwin has a real flair for understated, slow-boil comic timing and is as foxy as they come. Best of all, Baldwin is game, unafraid to show his not-insubstantial midsection in several revealing shirtless scenes.
Nancy Meyers' script isn't bad either: ribald and quick-witted in a manner reminiscent of the screwball comedies of yesteryear, except with penis jokes and pot-smoking. And It's Complicated balances its unabashed escapist fantasy with the occasional mild insight into the long-term sting of romantic rejection, post-50 sexuality, and the deep, lingering hurt of divorce for children.
Jane is a fantasy projection for both men and women. She's a brilliant cook, with a Martha Stewart garden, the confidence and security that financial independence brings, a 60+ siren vied over by two fit, sports car-driving midlife hunks. Oh, and her son-in-law worships her.
Yes, it's the world women want more than the one they actually occupy. But as everybody who has watched an immature schlub land an out-of-this-world babe in an Apatow flick knows, Hollywood has always been about dreams far more than reality.