Hidden Gem: ‘It’s Complicated’ (2009)

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Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Steve Martin, Meryl Streep, Zoe Kazan, Hunter Parrish, and Caitlin FitzGerald star in “It’s Complicated. The film was released on Christmas Day in 2009.

By Syd Slobodnik, Staff Writer

There is a common misconception and cliché that many films by female directors are usually lower budget endeavors, featuring mostly strong but lesser-known actors and that are frequently enhanced by a few other uniquely artistic touches.

Debunking this idea, there are filmmakers like Nancy Meyers, who has made several successful films as a skilled writer and director. Almost all of her films have featured A-list casts of top Hollywood stars with excellent production qualities from cinematography and musical scores to set design.

In fact, I recently came across an amazing statistic that Meyers’ films have been the most profitable of any mainstream female director in Hollywood. In Tom Brueggemann’s “Female Directors Power List: See Which Filmmakers Grossed Over $100 million,” he notes, “Leading the way is Nancy Meyers. Her six films have averaged just under $150 million each.”

Since 1998, she has both written and directed a string of box office successes, such as “The Parent Trap,” “What Women Want,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “The Holiday” and “The Intern.” In addition, her earlier films include her Oscar-nominated screenplay for “Private Benjamin” (1980) and her script for the successful remake of “Father of the Bride” (1991).

Add to this catalog her underappreciated 2009 romantic comedy “It’s Complicated,” which stars Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Many critics dismissed this film as a predictable middle-aged romance, but I see this as more of a modern twist on the divorce/remarriage comedies of the ’30s and ’40s (like “His Girl Friday” and “The Philadelphia Story”). Meyers’ modern spin focuses more on the women’s choices.

The film concerns a successful restauranteur, Jane Adler (Streep), who owns a popular upscale place known as “the bakery” in Santa Barbara, California. She’s the mother of three adult children who reconnects with her ex-husband Jake (Baldwin), a successful lawyer who she divorced a decade before and with that many troubles follow.

Since their divorce, Jake has married Agness (Lake Bell), a younger woman with a toddler from a previous relationship. Agness desperately wants a child with Jake and has him going to a fertility clinic. Jane is in the process of remodeling her home and is very impressed with the architectural design ideas of Adam Schafer (Steve Martin), a guy who has recently experienced a painful divorce after his wife left him for his best friend while they all were on vacation in Tuscany. He’s seeking a new start on life, and he finds Jane appealing. Jane has serious doubts about her own appeal and jokes about it with her circle of close friends Trish (Rita Wilson), Diane (Alexandra Wentworth) and Joanne (Mary Kay Place).

When Jane travels to New York with her daughters, Gabby (Zoe Kazan) and Lauren (Caitlin FitzGerald), for her son Luke’s college graduation, she accidentally runs into Jake (who happens to be without his wife) in a New York hotel bar, and after several drinks, they share a night of renewed passion. Weeks later Jake can’t stop thinking about their reunion, and while Jane can’t get over her embarrassment and certainly doesn’t want her kids to find out, the affair continues.

Streep adds a giddy vibrancy to her role. As Jane, she shows a mixed-up blend of guilt and passion.  She can’t help denying the joy of being desired again. With a second and third rendezvous with Jake, she wears her favorite perfume and fancy high heels and lights candles.

Streep and Baldwin are very effective at playing middle-aged crazy, too. Actually, viewers should note Steep is nine years older than her co-star. Past comedies like these usually featured much older men matched with younger actresses. Meyers also nicely manages Martin as he plays a completely serious and effectively sensitive rival suitor, never pushing his usual wacky side.

Beautifully photographed by John Toll, the two-time Oscar winner for “Braveheart” and “Legends of the Fall,” “It’s Complicated” has an attractive visual style that highlights the film’s many attractive locales and sets.

While not necessarily profound, Meyers’ light comedic humor certainly lives up to its title and pokes a good deal of carefree fun at the folly of middle-aged men and women having a romantic fling.