Jane (Meryl Streep) is the mother of three grown kids, owns a thriving Santa Barbara bakery/restaurant and has—after a decade of divorce—an amicable relationship with her ex-husband, attorney Jake (Alec Baldwin). But when Jane and Jake find themselves out of town for their son's college graduation, things start to get complicated. An innocent meal together turns into the unimaginable—an affair. With Jake remarried to the much younger Agness (Lake Bell), Jane is now, of all things, the other woman.
Caught in the middle of their renewed romance is Adam (Steve Martin), an architect hired to remodel Jane's kitchen. Healing from a divorce of his own, Adam starts to fall for Jane, but soon realizes he's become part of a love triangle.
Should Jane and Jake move on with their lives, or is love truly lovelier the second time around? It's... complicated.
While most romantic comedies focus on the trials, travails, and trysts of beautiful twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, writer-director Nancy Meyers has carved out quite a niche chronicling middle-aged affairs and the unique issues facing more mature players in the complex dating game. All of her films, with the exception of 'The Holiday,' examine the pitfalls and promises of second-chance love later in life, proving to jaded fortysomethings, fiftysomethings, and beyond it's never too late to find a mate, kick up your heels, and let go of all the baggage weighing you down. According to Meyers, sometimes it takes a half-century or more to crystallize one's perspective, and that's what 'It's Complicated,' arguably her best film, is all about.
For the past decade, Jane (Meryl Streep) and Jake (Alec Baldwin) have been amicably divorced. Jake's dalliance with the much younger (and more alluring) Agness (Lake Bell) busted up their union, but the two have managed to keep things cordial, much to the amazement of their friends. Jane has remained unattached since the breakup, combating loneliness by immersing herself in her Santa Barbara catering business, but Jake married his mistress, and now, at age 58, is back in the grind of child-rearing and procreation. Yet, while attending their son's college graduation in New York, sparks between Jane and Jake reignite, and they begin a torrid affair. Realizing they still possess feelings for each other and relishing their more liberated relationship, they gingerly forge ahead. It's not easy, though, for Jane to accept and rationalize her new (and ironic) role as the other woman, especially as she fields the quiet advances of her mild-mannered architect (Steve Martin), to whom she also finds herself attracted. Meanwhile, Jake finds himself in the awkward position of cheating on his wife with his wife…er, ex-wife, and both want to keep their illicit encounters a secret from their three grown kids. As the title says, it's complicated.
The great thing about Meyers is that she writes largely intelligent, relatively believable romantic comedies with just enough substance to merit mild reflection. And while 'It's Complicated' won't change your life, it surely isn't 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days' or '27 Dresses' for the over-40 crowd. Nuggets of truth sprinkled throughout inspire a few "aha" moments, and though the script doesn't boast many laugh-out-loud lines or situations, it flows smoothly, taking us from Point A to Point B to Point C like a gentle riverboat ride.
Meyers is also quite an accomplished director, with an admirable knack for making romantic comedies worthy of big-screen treatments. Her elegant yet breezy style, use of impeccable production values, and good narrative instincts keep us engaged, and lend a sense of maturity and importance to her work. Though her films may appeal to the whole family, they're really, save for 'The Parent Trap,' made for adults. Meyers may not be Woody Allen, but she's far more sophisticated than some of the hacks who helm films for the 18-35 crowd, and she never dumbs down her plots to appease that group. Sure, she could have shaved a few minutes off the movie without harming the whole, but despite its two-hour running time, 'It's Complicated' is never dull, thanks to Meyers' assured style and the magnetism of its stars.
I'm a huge Streep fan, but I've always felt her work in comedies has been spotty, especially when she plays a contemporary, "normal" character. With no mask to hide behind, Streep can seem a bit ill-at-ease at times, but not for a single minute in 'It's Complicated,' which contains perhaps her most natural, down-to-earth comedic performance. Because the script doesn't give her any showy scenes of emotion or far-out, farcical episodes, Streep must be a rather typical (ex)wife and mother, girlfriend, and entrepreneur, and she's always credible. She also creates terrific chemistry with Baldwin, whose omnipresent twinkle and boundless energy contribute to a wholly likeable portrayal. Cinema marriages can be tricky business, but Streep and Baldwin are so comfortable with each other we can really see them together as a couple, feel the attraction between them, and buy the fact that they've raised a family and spent the better part of their lives together. That's tough to do, but both actors bring their A game, and their enthusiasm is contagious.
Martin wisely underplays and does what he can with a bland role. He, too, makes a fine foil for Streep, but has a hard time competing with Baldwin's flair. Just as Jane has a weakness for rascal Jake, so, too, do we, despite Martin's heart-on-his-sleeve sensitivity. Both, however, are deep down good guys, so we're never actively rooting for or against either man, which makes the outcome easier to accept. And as Jane and Jake's future son-in-law who learns their dirty little secret early on and must remain mum, John Krasinski inspires some of the film's biggest laughs with some very small bits of business.
'It's Complicated' is, quite simply, one of the better romantic comedies of 2009. Slick, delightful, and engaging, it goes down easy like a Santa Barbara sunset, and proves movies about middle-age don't have to be stodgy and stiff. If you take it at face value and enjoy the fine performances, it makes for a fun and satisfying movie experience.
'It's Complicated' arrives on Blu-ray sporting a strong, but not perfect, 1080p/VC-1 transfer. Excellent contrast shows off the California coastline to terrific advantage during the opening credits, despite some nagging digital noise on the solid blue sky. (Bits of noise also crop up here and there during the course of the film, but rarely distract from the on-screen action.) Clarity is generally quite good, though it seems as if Streep is occasionally shot through filters to achieve a softer look. There's a noticeable shift in sharpness when Meyers cuts between Streep and Baldwin, but it's far from glaring. Still, close-ups sport a good amount of detail, even if they lack dimensionality, and fleshtones appear stable and natural throughout.
Colors are bold, especially the verdant greens of the lush Santa Barbara landscape, and inky black levels lend night scenes weight and depth. Background elements come through clearly, though fabrics don't possess quite as much texture as they should. Faint grain, however, preserves the feeling of celluloid, and no specks or scratches sully the pristine print. Any digital enhancements are well concealed, and no banding or posturization creeps into the image. All in all, this is a fine effort from Universal, one that provides a smooth, involving viewing experience.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track provides crisp, clear sound, but not a whole lot of multi-channel activity. A bit of ambience creeps into the rears now and then, but it's subtle and largely confined to exterior scenes. Front channel stereo separation, however, is more pronounced, and widens the audio field just enough to lend the film a more expansive feel. Dialogue is properly prioritized and always easy to understand, and the lilting music score enjoys fine fidelity and tonal depth. As one might expect, there's not much bass on the track, but good dynamic range keeps the lows and highs free of distortion. No one would expect 'It's Complicated' to serve up reference quality audio, and it doesn't, but the solid track takes care of business and keeps our attention focused where it belongs – on the film.
Only a couple of extras are included, and though they look and sound good, they merely skim the surface. Of course, that's pretty typical for a movie of this sort.
'It's Complicated' won't have you rolling in the aisles, but it will put a smile on your face and make you feel all warm inside, thanks to the talents of Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, and John Krasinski, and the confident hand of writer-director Nancy Meyers. Despite its middle-aged slant, this marital romp should appeal to singles and couples of all ages, and while solid video and audio make it all look and sound fairly spry, the supplemental package could benefit from a little boost. Definitely worth a look for fans of the stars and genre, or those who just want to cuddle up with a loved one and a bottle of California wine.