Wednesday, 13 January 2010

It's Complicated

2009. Dir: Nancy Meyers. Starring: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski and Lake Bell. ●●○○○

The best thing about a nice romantic comedy is that all it takes is a simple story told reasonably well to make the film a tremendous success. After all we don't want much, just some touching moments as the protagonists slowly realise their feelings for each other. Unfortunately Nancy Meyers does her very best to take a simple story and twists in additional plotlines and characters to such an extent that it can no longer be a joy. It's Complicated, you see.

The basic premise sees divorcee Meryl Streep find herself falling back in lust with her former husband Alec Baldwin following a drunken night of passion. This leads to a torrid affair which must be kept secret from Baldwin's broody second wife, the couple's 20 somethings children and the architect currently vying for Meryl's affection (played by Steve Martin).

I actually quite like the premise, in the centre there's an interesting question about whether you can fall out of love with someone. Meryl and Alec have a shared history together and apart, they know the best and worst sides of each other's temprament, and yet they find themselves inexplicably drawn together again. Perhaps if we just had these two finding each other again then it would have worked. However we have to sit through interminable superfluous scenes. There's the divorced women's flan nights, the therapy session (I really hated that scene) and the long stretches at the Baldwin household. Even the tentative romance with Martin seems to be tacked on the side - perhaps only as a hint of a happy ending for Meryl.

There are some every funny moments - the hotel scene is done with a proper eye for farce and the set up for the family lunch is equally humourous. Both of thee benefit hugely from the performance of John Krasinski (as the future son-in-law) taking the audience surrogate role. Later the whole weed section is well played by all involved. But all of these scenes are so separated by extra rubbish that they are lessened. The whole maxim that every film benefits from cutting half an hour can only be proven by looking at It's Complicated.

There have been a large number of gripes from the critics that the characters in Meyer's work are so removed from relaity that it's impossible to identify with them. And whilst it's true that the porsche driving lawyers and extension building bakery store owners have little in common with me I find that I can easily grasp the dilemmas they have that are important to the thrust of the story. I honestly don't believe that the film would have benefitted if Meryl was fretting about the mortgage payments, in fact the additional struggles would probably have only made the film longer and less interestiong. This also goes for the annoying children - it's clear that their response to finding out about the affair is a critique on modern divorce, especially in wealthy society. These kids, who appear to have been spoiled rotten by both their parents, are merely reacting in the ways that fits their personas - however weird crying together in bed seems.

John Krasinski is clearly the stand-out performer, but that's probable because he always gets the best scenes (and does a great worried look). Alec Baldwin is also great as the philandering father. Meryl is deeply disappointing, opting to over-complicate her performance in order to match the film. We get that she's conflicted by the situation, but she never allows herself to simply say a line without her voice betraying those mixed feelings.

Overall this was a fun few hours, but with significant editing and a more focussed approach it could have been much much better.

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