I keep trying with Nancy Meyers, and I’m not going to do it anymore; she’s an awful writer and a terrible filmmaker, period, point blank, end of story, and if there’s anything to be learned from her latest soggy mess of a motion picture, It’s Complicated, it’s that there no matter who she somehow manages to suck into her orbit, there is no actor who can emerge from a Meyers project unscathed. You’d be hard pressed to come up with three actors I’d more enjoy seeing in a film together than Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin, but they are unable to do what Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Frances McDormand, Amanda Peet, Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Mel Gibson, and Helen Hunt couldn’t manage either: to make a Nancy Meyers “comedy” watchable. Her films are where good acting goes to die.The storyline, which is (in all fairness) moderately clever, centers on Jane (Streep), your typical fabulously wealthy, supposedly independent Meyers protagonist. Ten years ago, her husband Jake (Baldwin) left her for the younger temptress Agness (Lake Bell), now his wife. Both find themselves drinking alone at the hotel bar in New York City, where they’ve gone for their son’s graduation; the drinks flow, the dancing follows, and before she knows it, Jane is having an affair with her ex-husband. The timing couldn’t be more inopportune; a faint flirtation has begun with Adam (Martin), the architect who’s designing the addition for her house.
And it’s not funny. Good Lord, is it not funny. There’s not an honest-to-goodness laugh from one end of this movie to the other. Witness poor John Krasinski, so good on The Office, playing the future son-in-law who is clearly supposed to be the family cut-up, but saddled with painfully unamusing lines and no clue how to play them. Note the tired, desperately unhip descent into turgid pot humor. But for a real course in how to screw up comedy, watch the climactic bit with the webcam, which has potential, and is set up just fine, but the execution is disastrous—it’s clumsy, overdone, overshot, overwhelmed by the obnoxiously whimsical score. The only thing worse than an unfunny scene is an unfunny scene accompanied by “funny” music. Watching that scene fall apart, all you can wonder is why they keep letting Nancy Myers direct movies, and nine years after What Women Want, I still don’t have an answer for you.
Indeed, it takes a special kind of bad filmmaker to get a bad performance out of Meryl Streep, but Myers does it. Streep’s work here is overcooked; it’s all eye-rolling and fake laughing, trying too hard to overcompensate for the mirthless writing. Her and Alec Baldwin have some chemistry, in spite of the script; they even have one entire good scene, a laid-back, honest chat in her bathroom that provokes some genuine chuckles. But he’s saddled with an irritatingly one-note character and no real through-line. Martin has some amusing moments and conveys real charm, but he tends to push too hard as well, desperate to wring some laughs out of the tired material.
It’s Complicated is exactly the movie you think it’s going to be. It is delivered as advertised, two hours of forced affability and wine-soaked “girl talk” and music montages and unrestrained self-indulgence on the part of its abysmal writer/director. I can’t imagine how anyone would willfully sit through it. I predict it will be a huge holiday hit.