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« Carey Mulligan Shines in 'Wildlife'| Main| Gotham Nominations: "The Favourite"and "First Reformed"Lead »
Thursday
Oct 18 2018

Months of Meryl: It's Complicated (2009)

JohnandMattheware watching every single live-action film starring Meryl Streep.

#42 —Jane Adler,a successful bakery owner caught in a love triangle with her ex-husband and her architect.

JOHN: Quick: name a recent American movie starring a 60-year-old woman who,in attempting to enliven her long-deferred sex life,is pursued by not one but two enamored men.Additionally: name a film like this that grossed over $200 million worldwide.Perhaps the only correct answer is Nancy Meyers'It's Complicated,which is itself a testament to both the rarified and barrier-breaking career of its leading lady,the one and only Meryl Streep."Only"because,well,who else but Streep could get a movie like this off the ground and steward it toward a box office tier reserved almost exclusively for inane,teenager-courting blockbusters?In her 2011Voguecover story,Streep remarked that "in the period ofSilkwood,[It's Complicated] could never have been made,with a 60-year-old actress deciding between her ex-husband and another man.With a 40-year-old actress it would never have been made."It's Complicatedis a star vehicle that is in some ways completely uncomplicated,but in other ways downright revolutionary,showcasing the effervescent charisma of its beloved star while also demanding that audiences consider a woman who undoubtedly exists in the real world but hardly ever graces the big screen...

After letting loose in films likeMamma Mia!,Julie & Julia,and,in some respects,Doubt,Streep dials back the histrionics and digs deep into uncovering the emotional turmoil of Jane Adler,a thriving pastry chef and small-business owner who allows herself to have an affair with her boisterous ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin) while simultaneously entertaining the more tempered advances of her architect Adam (Steve Martin).


Guided by an able director who completely understands that her leading lady is,at heart,an entertainer,Streep creates a comic performance full of indelible expressions and hilarious line readings that nonetheless remains grounded in reality,or,rather,the reality of a very well-off Santa Barbara resident.Streep's Jane is the type of woman who can tryst with her ex-husband on a weekday morning at a posh hotelandescort the architect of her new kitchen extension (!) to her ownDean & DeLuca-style restaurant to make delicious chocolate croissants in the middle of the night.Streep is,let's be clear,not playing an "ordinary"woman,but she does manage to telegraph the specific concerns and dilemmas of upper-middle-class women of a certain age: the empty nest,the sagging eyebrow,the unsatisfied nights spent alone.

From the moment Streep first appears onscreen she is laughing,and for most of the film we are laughing along with her.Sprinting out of a plastic surgeon's office,staring with eyes aghast at the thought of her vagina "closing up,"laying in bed beside Baldwin in post-coital horror,only to waddle over to the bathroom to vomit,Streep ensures that the film is laugh-out-loud funny,all while navigating tricky dramatic  situations between her two paramours and confronting hard truths about her current predicament.Slouched over the toilet after rekindling her flame with Baldwin,Streep utters,"This is the stupidest thing two people have ever done,"with complete sincerity.

Streep must constantly negotiate the highs (ravenous sex,life-long familiarity) and lows (confusion,chaos,adultery) of her affair with Baldwin while hiding it from her brood (played by Caitlin Fitzgerald,Zoe Kazan,and Hunter Parrish),who remain oblivious to signs of their divorced parents' illicit engagements,even as Jane's future son-in-law (John Krasinski) picks up their scent.Martin further complicates this by being completely available and kind,playing a slightly reserved man who nonetheless invites Streep to experiment with a different type of adult relationship as exciting as it is comfortable.Meyers allows Streep the time and space to deliberate between these two men,and Streep rewards her with a protagonist whose rich inner-life lends weight and integrity to what could have easily been a cartoonish farce.There'ssomuch to savor here,but what jumps out at you the most about Streep's Jane Adler?


MATTHEW: Baldwin has a line early on inIt's Complicatedthat summarizes what's so special about Streep's performance here,her best of 2009."You were great — so loose and sexy,"Baldwin remarks to Streep after one of their early assignations,before asking,"How often do you get to be like that?"Yes,Baldwin's character is referring with proud lechery to the extramarital sex he just had,but it's a comment that could be applied with equal validity to Streep's stellar work across this film.It's Complicatedshowcases one of the actress' saddest,sweetest,and thirstiest performances,a near-constant joy from beginning to end that is made all the more pleasurable for the very rarity of this kind of acting assignment in Streep's career.In recent years,I have watched with no small bittersweetness as international actresses like Paulina García,Isabelle Huppert,and Juliette Binoche have boldly dug into similar roles as heartsick yet courageous divorcées in,respectively,Sebastián Lelio'sGloria,Mia Hansen-Løve'sThings to Come,and Claire Denis'Let the Sunshine In.I take obvious delight in these wise and winsome performances,but I also sorrow over the fact that older American actresses like Streep and Angela Bassett and Annette Bening and Patricia Clarkson and Holly Hunter and Jessica Lange and Alfre Woodard,amongmanyothers,are seldom given the chance to headline stories so human-scaled and root around in the dramatically rich lives of everyday women about whom Hollywood could not possibly care less.

With the possible exception of the underratedHope Springsthree years after it,It's Complicatedis the closest we have yet to come to seeing Streep in a grounded,semi-soul-bearing character portrait like the ones cited above,even if the most inspired moments of Meyers' film hardly hold a candle to Lelio's,Hansen-Løve's,and Denis' tougher-minded studies.I truly admire Meyers' comedic sensibility and visual flair,but her baggy,oftentimes scatterbrained films require hardworking and emotionally astute actors like Streep,Diane Keaton,Anne Hathaway,and the rest to keep her narratives hanging together.Here,Meyers' disorganization has the benefit of giving Streep ample room for variation,and the actress embraces these opportunities wholeheartedly.Sure,she still has to suffer through some of Meyers' sillier scenarios,like that pandering plastic surgery scene or Jane's later,gratuitous visit to the therapist that literalizes all the inner turmoil that Streep has made palpably plain elsewhere.Yet it's easy to forgive and forget moments like these because of the scene-improving specificity of Streep's merrily authentic approach,which lends credence to each and every shift in the character,no matter the sloppiness of Meyers' transitions.

InIt's Complicated,Streep radiantly masters the art of playing flustered without being fussy.No matter the set-up,Streep's aim is sharp,her intent always clear and true.There's real fire in her flirtations and bedroom scenes with the especially game Baldwin,but there's also real ice in her eyes whenever Jake drudges up old slights and unhealed wounds from his and Jane's marital past.In studio comedies,moments like these frequently translate as screenwriters biding their characters' time with some empty quarreling before they face their next comedic obstacle.But Streep seizes these passages to show us the conflicted consideration of a woman wondering if she really can just resume a former life she assumed she had long left behind.That's a more complex interpretation than most actors can snatch from an entire script,much less a scene that is essentially dramatic filler.Similarly,Streep maintains a wonderfully warm rapport with Martin while showing particular skillfulness innotimmediately deepening their connection,purposely keeping Adam at a distance as Jane throws herself back into her relationship with Jake.Streep is as attuned as ever to her fellow actors,but she's also clearly working through the complex impulses of her character,never coming to the pat conclusions one might reasonably expect from this genre or this filmmaker.

In 2009,the Academy's acting branch unsurprisingly went for the Streep performance most in keeping with their penchant for wigs and accents.ButIt's Complicated,in retrospect,produced what feels like the more rounded creation and serves as a pleasing reminder,as if any were needed,that this goddess can dazzle us without the assistance of any of the superficial effects that win people Oscars.亚博主页Streep can earn some of the biggest laughs of her career by being so loopily insouciant in a perfectly entertaining pot sequence,but she can also enhance some of Meyers' most simplistically feel-good bromides with the unexpected insight that comes when an actor places her assured and unimpeachable belief in the words provided for her on the page.In scenes like the one where Jane tells her three overly emotional,dirty blonde baby muppet children that she embarked on this affair with their father for herand her alone,Streep manages,with grace and gumption,to transform the mushiest platitude into a credible lesson from a fictional life messily but fully lived.


What else stands out for you about one of Streep's rare romantic comedies?

JOHN:It's Complicatedis not a terrible film,by any means,but you accurately describe the sometimes patchy and contrived scenarios that Streep must deftly piece together.She does this by barreling forward with tremendous energy in both her dramatic and comic moments,maneuvering the two strains in her script with expert panache.Streep conveys Jane's loneliness in remarkably subtle ways: meekly but firmly announcing,"Adler,party of one,"upon entering a hotel restaurant solo;insisting to Martin that she doesn't want his-and-hers sinks;and later,being stood up and humiliated by Baldwin after preparing an ornate meal,proceeding to take off her earrings,close all the lights,and slink away to bed.When Jane finally decides to let Jake see her naked,Streep slowly unfurls her bathrobe,sustaining his eye contact with an expression as vulnerable and delicate as she has ever been on screen.In these moments,Streep raises the emotional stakes of a film that would have been equally content to forget them.

But as Jane remarks to Adam after an exciting evening at her son's graduation party,fun isnotoverrated,is it?Streep is evidently having the time of her life hanging out with her gals,cooking delicious-looking meals (lavender ice cream!),and getting her freak on with uncontained glee.Who else but Streep could utter the lines,"I'm a bit of a slut,"or "I prefer a lot of semen — always have,"with such cheeky,outrageous conviction?And then there's the "smot poking"sequence,a nonstop howler that is at once a completely ludicrous rendering of being high but is nonetheless pure joy to watch,especially when Streep remarks on Martin's "insane dashboard cockpit"or admits that she's "feeling a littlefan-tastic!"She should feel fantastic;Streep whips up a frothy and formidable performance inIt's Complicated,a treat to savor for years to come.


Next Week: The Iron Lady

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Reader Comments (29)

Women over 60 chased by 2+ men that also grossed $200 mill global:

Mamma Mia!

But yes,point taken.

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel23

This absolutely should've been her Oscar nomination in 2009 - and Baldwin deserved one too.

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Oh no Meryl.

October 18,2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I re-watched this recently,and was surprised how much I enjoyed it.The family and kitchen of course are TOO perfect,but it's perfect escapism fare and full of funny and warm performances.It's kind of like a modern Doris Day movie?It holds up well.I loved all the banter with Streep,Baldwin,Martin,Krasinki and the kids.And for Streep,as you note,it's very unusual for a big star to become even a bigger star in her 60's.At least she has fun.

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

House Porn!!!- These types of houses only exist in the eyes of Nancy Myers :)

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterME

I saw this back in the day and I swear all I can remember is Steve Martin's overly botoxed face and Meryl Streep's amazing kitchen (which I'd kill for!).

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Thoroughly enjoyable film and I always thought it was a no brainer that she was better here than in J&J

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterEoghan McQ

A confident,breezy and fun performance from Streep...I wish we had seen this performance in Mamma Mia the year before.

I also love how Meryl worked first with Emily Blunt In Prada,then with John Krasinski in this one a few years later.I believe this was before both started dating.

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterBC

Love it and such escapism whenever it is on.

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Loved this escapist film...What does "Oh no Meryl"mean?

October 18,2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Bless Nancy Meyers for bringing woman into the cinema to see that there is life for ladies after 40.Other examples I can think of are "Indiscreet"with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman and "Terms of Endearment"with Shirley Maclaine and Jack Nicholson.

I thought Meryl Streep was vivacious and fun to watch in this romance.Alec Baldwin really killed it as well.I was disappointed by Steve Martin whose character was frankly a bit boring,and his performance was nothing special.
Meyers gets very little respect as a director but she has an uncanny knack for portraying the small moments woman notice when they are trying to adjust to life around them.She gets the tone right.
And that is no small feat.Life is complicated and it's not easy to do as well as this is done.

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

"name a film like this that grossed over $200 million worldwide.Perhaps the only correct answer is Nancy Meyers' It's Complicated"


Or Nancy Meyers' "Something's Gotta Give"with Diane Keaton and a global box office of $260 million and a second love-interest who was much younger.(Granted,Diane Keaton had not yet hit 60 at the time the movie was released,but still.What I find interesting about the Keaton film is that the older woman was being pursued by a younger man: it seemed more daring precisely for that reason.)

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterDavide

Meryl should just retire and leave the fuck us alone

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMamie

All-time favorite for me.Never,ever get tired of it.

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJes V.

@mamie.Shut the f—- up

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterRdf

Don't forget that Blank Check with Griffin and David are doing the films of Nancy Meyers this holiday season and it's gonna be littttttttttttt.The first one (Parent Trap) just came out on Sunday so BUCKLE UP

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

JJ - nice shout out,I was listening to the Blank Check podcast this morning.I am loving it.
Btw.why so little respect for Nancy Meyers?In the UK and elsewhere,Richard Curtis is considered a national treasure,his films are loved.As a director,Curtis is on par with Nancy Meyers,Penny Marshall,and Nora Ephron.I just want these ladies to get more respect.

October 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

The only good thing I can say about this movie is this terrific BoJack Horseman line:
"It's complicated...if our relationship was a Meryl Streep movie,it would be...Doubt."

October 19,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

I love how "free"she seems to be in this.Not a Play,not a Biopic or novel… Noone to compare to thankfully.Just a joy.
I love the high-Scene.Could watch it everyday tbh.*lol*
Personally I found Alec Baldwin's Jake to be Pretty annoiying,while Steve Martin's Adam was really charming.I hope they (Meryl and Steve) do another movie together.
The end was nice too imo.Not "happy"but optimistic.
The kids were stange actually,but John Krasinski was fun as her soon-to-be-son-in-law.

October 19,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

As with all Meyers films - well-crafted,enjoyable,but ultimately forgettable.Very much a franchise,where no film distinguishes itself from the others.

October 19,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

I hope some of these comments are not the future of your website?We need time capsules like this to show people how we used to get stoned and laugh,not attack in grim terror.

October 19,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSRB

Am I the only one who like this better than her more popular Julie & Julia released same yr??lol

Between,Its Complicated,J&J,& Fantastic Mr Fox,Queen Meryl is having a bumper year in 2009!!

She shlv've been nom for this instead of J&J,and WIN!!!

October 20,2018 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

This was far more critical hand-wringing than "It's Complicated"EVER deserves,but anyways.I didn't like this film or "Julie & Julia."I see that "The Iron Lady"is up next!That will cause a stir around here,I'm sure.The film's utter shit,but I'm almost ready for a reappraisal of sorts for Meryl's work in it.I can totally see why the Academy chose her over Viola Davis,and I probably would have done the same thing too.

October 21,2018 | Unregistered CommenterFord

I respect Nancy Meyers,but think this is one of her least successful films.It lays itself open for some of her detractor's usual criticisms.It's about rich white people: self-absorbed,oblivious,shallow,self-satisfied.And their "problems".

There's lots of "lead-splaining"in this movie.Streep lead-splains to her muted,adoring coterie of friends,every one of whom is a more interesting actress than she is.She lead-splains to her Orphans of the Storm children,huddled on a bed,as if they have the intellectual and emotional maturity of toddlers.

Baldwin is a ham,Streep is a grand-stander,and Martin is punished for trying to add some emotional depth.

It's sometimes remarked that Streep hasn't worked with a lot of "great"directors.That's because 1) if a film is unsuccessful,it's the director's fault.If it's successful,it's Streep's win.
2) It takes time for a director to recuperate from a Meryl Streep movie,and get back on track.She seems to just suck the life out of directors.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

"It takes time for a director to recuperate from a Meryl Streep movie,and get back on track.She seems to just suck the life out of directors."

What directors?If she weren't easy to work with,she wouldn't be cast in so many high-profile roles over a 40-year timespan - not to mention she wouldn't have so many longstanding relationships with directors.Furthermore,any number of directors have followed up their projects with Streep with some of their most acclaimed work:

Demme followed up The Manchurian Candidate with Rachel Getting Married
Wes Anderson followed up Fantastic Mr.Fox with Moonrise Kingdom
Nichols followed up Angels in America with Closer
Curtis Hanson followed up The River Wild with LA Confidential
Zemeckis followed up Death Becomes Her with Forrest Gump
Albert Brooks followed up Defending Your Life with Mother
Fred Schepisi followed up Plenty with Roxanne
Ulu Grosbard followed up Falling in Love with Georgia
Karel Reisz followed up The French Lieutenant's Woman with Sweet Dreams

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Are you just making up shit?LOL.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterQT

And my comment was for Adri.People project way too much of their own issues onto Meryl Streep,who is a great screen actor and artist.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterQT

Absolutely agree with your assessment of the movie and her performance.

One thing I have to say: the kids' parts were underwritten and not particularly well-performed.It irked me watching it,though as I'm typing this I'm realizing perhaps it was a choice?After seeing older people characterized so one-dimensionally throughout film history,perhaps this was payback?All I know is I couldn't stand any scenes with the kids!

Her chemistry with Baldwin,made during his career-high "30 Rock"tenure,is a joy to behold!

May 8,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Never have I seen so many negative comments about a sweet movie.People,it's just a movie,get over it and enjoy some fun once in a while.Geez!

July 12,2019 | Unregistered Commentermexys

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