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Non-Review Review: It’s Complicated

The title is misleading. It isn’t actually complicated. I’d demand my money back for such a misleading title, but the movie staisfies my basic need for naked Alec Baldwin. Because everyone needs more naked Alec Baldwin. You just don’t know it yet. All joking aside, the movie works as what it is: another attempt by Meryl Streep to demonstrate that women over fifty can be just as emotionally immature and as haplessly self-centred as any romantic lead in her twenties or thirties. Who says Hollywood is ageist? Romantic comedy can be equally demeaning no matter what your age.

One of these just scored way out of their league...

I’m being too harsh. It’s Complicated works a lot better – a lot better – than any conventional romantic comedy I’ve seen in a while. Yes, there’s a woman (Meryl Streep) presented with a bad romantic choice (Alec Baldwin) and a good romantic choice (Steve Martin) and must ienvitably make a choice as to which is better for her. And there’s never any real tension or doubt as to which she’ll choose – in fact, she looks a bit selfish for holding out on the inevitable choice as long as she does. The plot essentially follows a divorce’s attempts to straighten out an affair with her now-remarried ex-husband and a budding romance with her archetect. With hilarity ensuing. Well, from time to time.

In fairness, the movie generates a fair amount of its interest from Streep and Baldwin – to be frank, Steve Martin seems to have been cast only so he’d have something in common with Baldwin when they host the Oscars and really doesn’t have an opportunity to shine. Streep is a hugely talented actress, even when doing material far beneath her. The excesses of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro have led to truly disappointing films, so surely we can indulge Meryl just a little bit from time-to-time when she spaces these movies out with juicier roles? There’s very little here which strains her in anyway. I won’t go so far as to say she has a natural comedic gift, but she’s certainly competent.

Alec Baldwin, on the other hand, is Alec Baldwin. My brother, dragged to this movie by a promise to take my aunt to the cinema, even acknowledged the sheer unrestained or dilluted power of Baldwin a few minutes into the film. Unashamedly over-the-top and scenery-chewingly magnificent, Baldwin manages to take what could in lesser hands be a sleazy and one-note character and turn it into an entertainingly sleazy and one-note character. He’s charming and manipulative – and charmingly manipulative. He’s Alec Baldwin. It’s not an award-winning role, but it’s a consciously comedic one, perfectly telegraphed – from every smug smile in bed to his ‘come hither’ eyes to his forced tears to his stern looks across a dance floor. In lesser hands it would be cheese, but in the hands of Baldwin it is fine parmesan. If Streep strikes a blow for middle-aged leading ladies, Baldwin lands a few for overweight hairy gentlemen. And that’s a demographic that needs to be heard.

The rest of the movie is so-so. There are a handful of laughs to be had – most of which involve Baldwin in some way or another. It’s interesting to see a romance centring on a comedic examination of adultery (“I’m the woman we hate!” the lead character announces to her friends after embarking on the affair with her ex-husband). The film dodges the emotional complexity that such a situation would normal require by somewhat justifying the affair as retribution (the lead character is cheating with her ex-husband on the woman who originally cheated with him on her, if that makes sense… and she left him, had a child with someone and came back as if to underscore she’s not a nice person) and also by involving Alec Baldwin. Were Baldwin not so gratuitously charming, manipulative and over-the-top, this setup would be tragic, not comedic.

That said, there is perhaps a single moment of emotional honesty near the end of the movie, which suggests the possible damage that such recklessness may cause. It’s small, it’s understated and it’s easy to miss, but it’s just about there – and it feels quite different from the rest of the movie, both before and after that point.

Perhaps the movie’s greatest flaw is its length. There’s enough material and talent here to justify maybe ninety minutes of film. Wasn’t that near what Woody Allen defined as the ideal length for a comedy? Instead the movie overstays its welcome. I think I might have been much fonder of the movie had it been brisker. That most of the funny bits are isolated in the middle after an unnecessarily protacted set-up and coda doesn’t help either.

But, then again, I’m not the audience for this movie. When we saw the film, the cinema was full – yes, full, on a weeknight, for a film which had been out weeks – of middle-aged women and couples. And they were laughing. Admittedly, we laughed more than once or twice as well, but maybe there’s a portion of the film that requires a ‘been there, done that’ sort of experience to relate to.

I certainly had no real problem with the film. It’s a significantly better choice than any mainstream romantic comedy I can think of in the past couple of years. Meryl Streep is solid, Alec Baldwin is Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin is wasted. But two outta three ain’t bad. Just goes to show that Meryl Streep still has a thing or two to show today’s leading ladies and a reassurance that single life doesn’t necessarily end at thirty.

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2 Responses

  1. It is too long. I though John Kransinski was on par with Streep, and I suppose Baldwin: tough I’m not a fan of either. It’s passable; but I found it odd [inadvertently funny] how RICH everyone was. I could not stop thinking about all the food that was going to be thrown out and wondering WHY SHE NEEDED A BIGGER KITCHEN THAN THE HUGE ONE SHE ALREADY HAD.

    Excuse the all caps 🙂

    • I’m not quite sure why he didn’t really stand out for me. Being honest, his screwball antics kinda came outta nowhere in the second half and seemed a little bit forced. Okay, that’s hardly a fair criticism coming from a guy who acknowledged the scenery-chewing greatness that is the past five years of Baldwin’s career, but Kransinski just didn’t gel with me, to be entirely honest.

      Yep, I actually took the richness for granted – because it’s the same unspoken richness that we’ve seen in movies like this for years. It seems that unless the romantic leads are not well off is plot point, they will be well-off as a default position. Though, I suppose now might be the time to start exercising more caution in putting stuff like that on screen.

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