A Good Time With 3 Ace Performers

'It's Complicated' *** ( 3 Stars) Comedy Transcends Its Modest Ambitions

December 25, 2009|By Michael Phillips | Michael Phillips,Tribune Newspapers critic

"It's Complicated" isn't: It's pretty simple. It's simply a good time, a relatively adult and easygoing conveyance for three ace performers of a certain age, working through a few comic machinations created by writer-director Nancy Meyers. Her earlier romantic comedy, "Something's Gotta Give," offered a similar payout. You like that one, you'll like this one.

The fun isn't related to directorial finesse; if anything, that earlier Meyers film starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson was better-tooled than "It's Complicated," which has an oddly jumpy editing rhythm, offering five abrupt separate shots when one or two would do. And yet, this tale of a Santa Barbara, Calif., restaurateur, her ex-husband and her architect transcends its modest ambitions, which mainly involve making you wish you lived with the carefree "recession? What recession?" fiscal abandon these people do.

The movie has three huge ringers: Meryl Streep, now firmly entrenched in her role as box-office draw, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Plus there's a montage of Streep and Martin baking chocolate croissants guaranteed to keep you thinking about chocolate croissants until the next time you buy one.

As in "Something's Gotta Give," the push-pull dynamic is between a woman who should know better and her wolfish but charming pursuer. Ten years after their divorce, Jane (Streep) and remarried Jake (Baldwin) strike up an affair. Is it love? Lust? Lustlove? Meantime, the nice fellow overseeing Jane's elaborate house remodel (Martin) has hopes for romance, and Jane's not uninterested, but ...

The movie begins with the most relaxing bossa nova theme imaginable, composed most likely by Heitor Pereira. (The film's other credited composer, Hans Zimmer, tends to work in a bigger, more aggravating vein.) The script's weakest features are the blandly drawn kids. Its best is Meyers' ability to shift gears from ruefully amusing reflections about marriage and adultery and what we do for the sake of Eros, to bedroom farce, as in the scene featuring Streep and Baldwin sneaking into a hotel suite, much to the astonishment of their future son-in-law (John Krasinski). You know where it's going, but Meyers' script is deft, and even such cliches as older-folks-smoking-their-first-marijuana-in-decades lead somewhere fruitful. The way Martin's uptight character tries to act not-stoned at a party simply by squinting? Very funny.

Speaking of which: "It's Complicated" garnered an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America for "some drug content and sexuality." Universal Studios' ratings appeal (it wanted a PG-13) was denied because the scene of pot smoking led to no bad consequences. Terrific. Meantime a heinous, errantly violent soul-crusher like "Sherlock Holmes" waltzes off with a PG-13? Thanks for the guidance. I'm not advocating drug use. I'm advocating a ratings system that isn't smoking something.

MPAA rating: R (for some drug content and sexuality)

Cast: Meryl Streep (Jane); Steve Martin (Adam); Alec Baldwin (Jake); John Krasinski (Harley); Lake Bell (Agness)

Credits: Written and directed by Nancy Meyers; produced by Meyers and Scott Rudin. A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 1:58

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