It's Complicated, Nancy Meyers' sprightly fairy tale for grown-ups, stars a middle-aged Sleeping Beauty awoken by two prince charmings. One of them is her former husband. The other, the architect drawing an addition to her Spanish colonial.
Jane (Meryl Streep, wistful), a fiftyish blonde with a sense of humor and of proportion, may be the successful chef/owner of a Santa Barbara, Calif., cafe, but her personal life has been dormant since her divorce a decade ago. In the intervening years, Jake (Alec Baldwin, uninhibited), her faithless ex- and father of their three grown children, remarried a thirtyish brunette and became father to a now school-age son.
In New York for their own son's college graduation, Jane and Jake find themselves in the same hotel, the same hotel bar, and then, after a few bottles of red wine, the same bed. With roses blooming again in her cheeks and the sparkle back in her eyes, Jane attracts another beau back in Santa Barbara. Adam (Steve Martin, subdued) is the architect hired to redesign, as metaphor would have it, Jane's kitchen and her bedroom.
Do we root for Jane to find that love is lovelier the second time around? Or for her to literally and figuratively rebuild a new life?
As carefully styled as an Architectural Digest layout, It's Complicated is less antic than prior Meyers comedies (What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give). The humor isn't bubbly, it's sticky. As a consequence, except when the wily Baldwin and skittish John Krasinski (as Jane's prospective son-in-law) are on screen, the movie is more a chuckle-inward than laugh-out-loud affair.
Meyers knows what women want: the chastened playboy. And boy, oh, playboy, Baldwin is as riotous as Mel Gibson and Jack Nicholson were in her previous hits. The hirsute Baldwin, a knockabout motormouth who spends much time during the film unclothed, resembles Porky Pig - only carpeted shoulder to groin in shag rug, and ready to shag. Few things are funnier than a man of appetites indulging them all, simultaneously.
Does Baldwin's boisterousness overwhelm Streep - or does the actress fail to establish her own tone and tempo? Their scenes together should bounce, but more often than not they thud. They don't find each other's live spots. Nor - except in a sequence where they smoke pot and go to a party - do Streep and Martin.
Over the last few years with her richly deserved resurgence in The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt, and Julie & Julia, I've been convinced that Streep can do anything. But in It's Complicated, as in Mamma Mia!, Streep giggles instead of making the audience giggle - a cardinal sin. (This is the comedy counterpart of the dramatic credo: Don't cry if you want to make the audience cry. It's the withholding of the reaction that triggers the audience's reaction.)
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the spectacle of middle-aged people making spectacles of themselves. And I appreciated the film's gentle understanding of how the romance of a parent affects the children. It's Complicated is simply enjoyable. As the proletarian Jimmy Stewart character observed in The Philadelphia Story, "Sometimes the prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges."
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey