Everyone should have Meryl Streep’s problems. Are you ready? You can’t be nominated twice in the same category for an Academy Award. So what will Streep do? She’s the lead in Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia” and Nancy Meyers‘ “It’s Complicated.” She’s outstanding in each. Yikes! It’s not exactly Sophie’s choice.
My guess is she will probably be nominated ‘ and could win for ‘ her transcendent portrayal of Julia Child. It’s not an imitation of the famed chef. Streep inhabits her. It’s sort of wild. And mesmerizing.
This isn’t to say she isn’t great in Meyers’ new comedy of manners, “It’s Complicated,” the movie that could be termed the anti-”Precious” of 2009. “It’s Complicated” is a dazzling fantasy of what life is like for wealthy, attractive white people who live in paradise ‘ Santa Barbara, California. These people are even better off and more insulated from reality than Meyers’ gang from “Something’s Gotta Give” simply because they are in Santa Barbara, the U.S. equivalent of Cap d’Antibes.
This isn’t a criticism: “It’s Complicated” is set to be a huge hit for Universal. It’s not an Oscar nominee, but something better: a money maker. In a season of downer films about war, layoffs, the ghetto, and other depressing matters, only “It’s Complicated” and Rob Marshall’s “Nine” (an Oscar favorite) are respites from gloom.
“It’s Complicated” is like a very rich dessert. Meryl’s Jane is divorced, happy, and successful. She just doesn’t have a man. So she has an affair with her ex, played by Alec Baldwin. He’s married to an of-age child with a flat abdomen played by Lake Bell who has a child from an interlude in their short marriage (his name is Pedro, he’s the only non-white character in the movie). Meryl lives in a beautiful home on lots of property, but is now so successful as a baker (yes ‘ more cooking!) that she can hire Steve Martin to be her architect and add on more space. She’s finally getting the kitchen she always wanted!
Again, unlike other Oscar movies this season, no one throws a TV at her, she isn’t fragged, or fired, doesn’t have a swastika carved into her forehead. She also doesn’t get to sing and dance in Italian.
What’s more: this sounds like a real story since Nancy Meyers’ real middle name is Jane. Also, apparently she and husband Charles Shyer have never divorced. They’ve been separated for ten years. And they’re both successful writer-directors. They have two daughters, just like movie Jane.
“It’s Complicated” sounds frivolous, and it is. It also doesn’t matter. Meryl and Alec are a riot together. Steve Martin is unusually restrained, but spot on as always while his character waits and watches to see if Meryl can undo what she’s restarted with Alec. And John Krasinski from “The Office” is a welcome surprise as Meryl’s son-in-law to be.
There are, of course, a couple of iconic scenes that will be played over and over: Alec naked in bed with a laptop, giving Steve Martin a lapdance may leave permanent scarring. But Baldwin could get a Best Supporting Actor nomination out of it. And Streep also has a couple of memorable one liners. “I like a lot of sperm” has to be seen to be understood.
But mostly, Streep carries the film and the day. Unlike her showier roles, in this one she has no accent. There’s no crutch to fall back on. She’s exposed, and real, and very human. And then though “It’s Complicated” seems like it’s not very complicated at all, it’s Meryl’s intelligence and warmth as Jane that’s woven through the whole enterprise. You never want her story to stop.
In a way, it doesn’t have to. If you want to read stories in this ilk, catch up with Laurie Colwin. “It’s Complicated” definitely has echoes of the late great novelist’s work including her’ “Home Cooking” essays and comic novels like “Happy All the Time” and “A Big Storm Knocked it Over.”