Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If You Think the Poster is Bland...

...just wait until you see the movie.

It is very difficult to build a successful "Love Triangle" movie, and It's Complicated doesn't work simply because it fails to figure out the right formula. It has a formula, alright -- the same formula writer-producer-director Nancy Meyers usually works in. Successful, independent, single woman doesn't need to be completed by any man but really, really wants a man to complete her, and then she gets involved with the Bad Boy even as the Nice Guy stands just off to the side. Meyers is usually charged with telling insipid stories about rich people with impossibly beautiful homes and lifestyles who can afford to mope cutely about relationships. I have always defended Meyers because there is usually savvy truth in her screenplays that speaks beyond the surface gloss, and her stories exude warmth and charm unlike many other romantic comedies out there. In the case of It's Complicated, I might be inclined to join the gallery of haters.

No, it is not a bad movie. There are plenty of funny moments, great one-liners, and strong performances from Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. And the conceit, of a divorced couple reconnecting to have a torrid affair with one another, is priceless. But between the lines, Meyers has some big fish to fry here, trying to make points about the reinvigorated livelihood of middle-aged women, the dormant sexuality between divorced couples, and the arrested development of family dynamics as a result of divorce. It amounts, when all is said and done, to a bit much for a movie that wants to also be a saucy fun time.

For a while it sort of is saucy fun, but the test of a Meyers film's effectiveness is how clearly its underlying ideas are explored. Something's Gotta Give worked brilliantly because it toyed with the notions of the emotional artist and the nature of love among aging souls. The laughs were great, but you could still feel the sadness. It's Complicated is a little too sunshine-y for its own good, its points overstated and its titular complications too simple and transparent. Sure, Streep's overtly-successful bakery owner yearns to be loved, and sure, Baldwin's jerky cad is hilarious and appealing, and sure, Steve Martin's mild-mannered architect is a kinder, gentler, smarter choice (Martin, by the way, is the film's greatest sacrifice, toning down his brilliant energy and playing a bland nice guy who barely gets to flex his comic or dramatic muscles beyond a calm middle ground). It is makes sense...a little too much sense. And we can't really feel the pull of the love triangle because Meyers' screenplay is too front-loaded with the sexy-funny Streep-Baldwin affair to really establish Martin as much of a character.

Meyers is a talented romantic comedy writer, and later in her career she is developing some interesting insights. Great stories are often personal, but distance provides the right perspective, and It's Complicated feels a little too close to home, like this story is too fresh for Meyers to adequately communicate it to an audience. Beyond the surface plot of a divorced couple's affair are the underlying notions of a couple who isn't right for each other, but isn't finished with one another. We also get ideas of fully grown siblings who never got a chance to grieve their parents' split, who revert to a childlike state when they are forced to deal with their parents as a romantic entity once again. It's just too much to cram into a frothy studio comedy, and it accentuates the glaring problems many have with Meyers, like the gleaming white teeth and the ridiculously rich locales and the cinematography that almost shines in the corners of the screen. It's Complicated is the visual equivalent of a fabric softener commercial, with a screenplay that combines goofy surface ideas with more interesting, serious intentions. It is complicated...way too complicated to work.

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