PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Relationships are Hard and Things get Mixed Up -- It's Complicated

Battling bias can be hard, but It's Complicated lacks the basic quality material to make the proper case.

It’s Complicated

Director: Nancy Meyers
Cast: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski
Length: 120 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, Waverly Films, and Scott Rudin Productions
Year: 2009
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date: 2010-04-27

Nancy Meyers, the director of December hits What Women Want, The Holiday and Something’s Gotta Give, has made a career of catering to her own demographic. Her films usually star middle-aged or older thespians wandering around posh houses and contemplating what to do with all their free time. This is not a slight. Some of the most successful directors found a niche and attacked it mercilessly for decades of well-received work. Scorsese has the seedy underbelly of criminal life. Meyers has suburbia. Again–this is not a slight.

Meyers’ films, including It’s Complicated, are wacky, laid-back comedies for those able to access her obviously alluring world. She knows exactly how to tap into the audience’s inner gossip, giving us juicy insider info on the love lives of the rich and…well, rich. It’s good-natured fun run astray by a complete lack of regard for those with real worries, not whimsical ones.

For instance, It’s Complicated tells the tale of Jake and Jane, a long divorced couple held together by their three kids. Jake (Alec Baldwin), remarried with a young stepson, is a partner at an unnamed law firm, but we know he’s got a bit of cash stashed away because of the Porsche he zips around in throughout the film. Jane (Meryl Streep) is also financially set, a fact outlined by her desire to expand her already expansive house, despite her being the sole occupant with no plans for any kind of familial augmentation. Jane’s architect, Adam, (Steve Martin) questions her at one point about having only one sink in her new bathroom. She tells him, holding back tears, that her current situation (two sinks), “makes her sad”.

Now if this aspect of our protagonist’s problem makes you yearn for the troubles of those with two sinks, I urge you to avoid It’s Complicated at all costs. These sorts of scenes pop up again and again. When Jake and Jane embark on their mildly scandalous affair, you may be more bothered by how easy it is for them to take time off work and pay for luxurious hotel suites than the act of adultery itself.

There’s no denying a certain aspect of ignorance is present in Meyers’ films, but she makes no apologies for it or even acknowledgment of it. Should Scorsese be expected to bring in a character completely clueless to the motivations and mentalities of a criminal? Of course not–it would divert the movie entirely. Therefore, Meyers shouldn’t have to introduce anyone who might have a different worldview than those confined to closed-gate communities. On that front, she proves herself focused and completely understanding of her characters. It's an extremely entertaining film from start to about the end of act two.

The true problems persist in a much more basic place. Though the characters’ priorities are all true to form, their overarching motivations are never fully developed. The kids exist solely as props to depict family time until the film’s climax unfairly puts them front and center. John Krasinski, as Harley, the involved son-in-law, feels like he just stopped by the set, goofed off, and was offered a part. Don’t get me wrong–I’m glad he’s here. We just never get to know him. Jane, the film’s focus, also has structural cracks, but despite the earlier notation of Jane’s hypocritical housing plans, she is far from the least understood. Jake takes home that honor.

He cheats on his wife and feels no remorse. He expresses deep regret for failing Jane in the past, but never jumps fully on board with future plans. The man is a walking contradiction. In an obvious cry for the audience’s sympathy, one scene shows his wife being an absolutely cold, completely heartless nonhuman. OK, so that’s why he wants Jane back. Then we hear from a few of Jane’s friends that Jake can’t be alone and will stop at nothing to be taken care of by her. So does this prove Jake’s motives impure and mean he just needs a new caregiver when his latest drops the ball?

Jane doesn’t know. Jake doesn’t know. Meyers doesn’t know, and that means I don’t know. The film never fully embraces Jake as the hero or antihero, leaving its audience in limbo over who to root for in the end. While it’s nice for a while not to know who Jane will end up with, when you don’t know if she made the right choice by the end credits, there’s a problem. The ending itself feels tacked on and uneven, but that’s nothing new for a Meyers’ movie.

While she could teach a course on mise en scene and bringing the best out of actors, she has always struggled with creating a satisfying finale. What Women Want and Something’s Gotta Give are prime examples of Meyers’ desire to be conventionally satisfying until the final act. She delivers what everyone wants for the first hour and a half (her movies are also notoriously long), but yearns to defy convention for her final act. Unfortunately, she provides no set up for the unintentional let down. It doesn’t quite eradicate all the joy from the rest of the movie, but it definitely tries.

In It’s Complicated, the troubles tormenting the film don’t help ease the unsatisfactory conclusion. Meyers wants to lump all the complications under a label and move on with the fun. The film’s (ridiculous) title seems to be a direct message: “Ok, ok. There are a few character faults. Relationships are hard. Things get mixed up. It’s…complicated”. All of this may be true, but not for Meyers’ audience. Her viewers are used to being spoon-fed a heaping plate of fun for a whole film, not two-thirds. If Meyers’ can figure out how to finish as well as she starts, maybe her negative criticism won’t include those who want to slight her for her genre choice.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.