Most of us are familiar with the term “friends with benefits.” Well, when we get older and our bits start to sag, our memories dissolve into one another and our marriages collapse into shouting matches, that term slowly morphs into “divorced with benefits.”
At least that’s the relationship playbook according to the new film from writer/director Nancy Meyers, whose distinct oeuvre taps into the niche genre of middle-aged-and-then-some kinky comedies.
In What Women Want (2000) Mel Gibson played an aging philanderer. In Something’s Gotta Give (2003) Jack Nicholson (and supporting stars – his eyebrows) also played an aging philanderer. And in It’s Complicated, a smug and overweight Alec Baldwin plays, you betcha, an aging philanderer.
There are some corker moments spread throughout Meyers’s chipper rom-com, including the irresistible sight of Meryl Streep and Steve Martin hiding behind bushes, sparking a reefer and giggling like school girls. Then – one scene later – Streep returns for another puff with Baldwin in the bathrooom. For a fleeting moment the film plays like Half Baked crossed with Tea with Mussolini.
But few moments compete in the stakes of extreme hilarity with watching Baldwin’s character sneak into Streeps’s bedroom and strip down to his birthday suit. The tubby teddy lies on her bed, sprawled naked, and uses an open laptop screen to obscure his nether region – not realising that Martin’s character is connected to the scene via webcam.
Jane (Streep) rediscovers her libido when old flames are reignited with her charismatic ex-husband Jake (Baldwin), who has re-married to a young and snobby trophy wife with a naughty 5-year-old son. Trophy wife wants a new bub; Jake, forced to attend the fertility clinic, is not so keen. After an alcohol-fuelled evening the night prior to their son’s graduation Jane and Jake initiate an affair that evolves into a love triangle when mild-mannered architect Adam (Steve Martin) arrives on the scene.
It’s Complicated benefits immeasurably from Streep’s uncanny ability to turn simple on-paper characters into commanding, attention-guzzling screen personalities. But in an unexpectedly charming counter-performance Baldwin more than holds his own as a cocky, self-effacing big-bellied windbag, stealing scenes here and there and often dictating the film’s loopy energy. Cinema’s pre-eminent veteran silverfox – Steve Martin of course – contributes a curiously subdued presence a stratosphere away from the high octane dreadfulness exhibited in his Pink Panther remakes. If his acting here is a little dull, it’s because his character is a cookie cutter nice guy – sweet but soporific.
The younger cast disappoints. While John Krasinski (Jim from TV’s The Office, U.S. version) fares pretty well as Jane and Jake’s gawky son-in-law-to-be, the rest get outrageously out-schooled by their older colleagues. It doesn’t help that the yoof here are written as bland, threadbare personalities, constructed as one indistinct character divvied into a handful.
But the threesome at the heart of the story – not that kind of threesome, so mind out of the gutter puh-lease – form a memorable trio. Streep and Balwin are especially delightful to watch. It’s Complicated is a smart and sassy rom-com playfully acted, written and directed. Obvious, perhaps, but frothy and energetic.
The most impressive aspect of this fogies-having-fun comedy is Meyer’s simple but sizeable feat of making the love triangle between the three yesteryear heart throbs not just romantic but sexy.
Meyers and co. understand that sexiness isn’t about – or isn’t entirely about – six packs and wrinkle-free curves. Subsequently, the seniors club stars of It’s Complicated make younger gen actors – such as the cast of Twilight – look like a bunch of chaste wimps.
It’s Complicated’s Australian theatrical release date: January 7, 2009