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Nancy Meyers is a Hollywood powerhouse. Not only does she write, produce, and direct her own films, she has a level of power and control over her work that is rare even for a man. The fact that she’s a woman makes her such a singular entity that the outer vapidity of her films deserves a second look.
Think about Meyer’s first blockbuster What Women Want (2000), in which Mel Gibson suddenly develops the ability to read women’s minds, and tries to get in touch with his “feminine side” in order to reconnect with his teenage daughter. The outer implication of the film is that what every woman really needs is just to find the right man (yawn) and her problems will be solved. (Also, all women are insane.) But think about the actual action of the film: we see Mel in many compromising positions—shaving his legs, applying mascara and donning pantyhose. In a very obvious way, the film is giving us a queer, subversive picture of a major movie star in the same breath as it props up the oldest of Hollywood stereotypes.
With that in mind, It’s Complicated becomes much more interesting than it first appears. The story follows Jane (Meryl Streep, fabulous as ever) a 60-ish divorcee who runs a glamorous bakery business and feels the inexplicable need to expand her already enormous kitchen. Alec Baldwin is Jake, her ex, who is unhappily re-married to a much younger and more annoying woman (Lake Bell). The two are brought together by their son’s college graduation, during which they both become aware that the spark that brought them together hasn’t quite gone out. They have a drunken tryst in a chic Manhattan hotel before everyone heads back to verdant California, where things are supposed to get back to normal.
They don’t, of course, and things get complicated indeed when Jane and Jake start sneaking around. Even as her attraction to her milquetoast architect Adam (Steve Martin) grows, Jane finds she can’t tear herself away from Jake, even when he misses dates and invades her privacy. Eventually things come to a head and Jane throws Jake out for good, but not before they share a last wistful moment on a garden bench (her garden is even more preposterous than her kitchen). For all their sophomoric shenanigans, the last parting of Jane and Jake is surprisingly…adult. The film ends with Jane and Adam restarting their relationship as her house—an analogy for her life—gets ready to expand.
What makes It’s Complicated interesting is the fact that it maintains a staunchly middle-aged perspective most of the time—possible exceptions include Jane’s get-togethers with her other middle-aged friends, which feel completely contrived and uncomfortable. For example, Jake’s new wife Agness is obsessed with getting pregnant, and her attention to fertility and associated matters is portrayed as maniacal. Jane’s three adult children, on the other hand, are blond, beautiful, and pretty much self-sufficient. Jane represents the best things about aging—the Good Life—while Agness, with her pretentiously spelled name, represents the worst of being young.
As with all of Meyers’ movies, this film takes place in a totally unrealistic fantasy world. Everyone drives a nice car and has a huge house, and there’s not a non-White person to be seen. It’s like recession porn; for 90 minutes, you can immerse yourself in a living Pottery Barn commercial, where none of the characters ever has to worry about petty things like health insurance or making rent. But perhaps this backdrop is necessary in order to keep the film’s focus on bending the Hollywood rules about aging. Meyers seems to think that if we’re going to confront such an enormous taboo as Sex after Sixty, having the characters decked out in Brooks Brothers and Eileen Fisher might make it a little more palatable. However, for all its faults, it’s hard to remember the last time an older woman was portrayed in such a positive way outside of another Nancy Meyers movie—that alone makes It’s Complicated worth seeing. Just don’t watch it with your parents.