With Something’s Gotta Give and the new It’s Complicated, writer-director Nancy Meyers has cornered the market on poorly titled dramedies about revitalized older women finding love after menopause. Both films are shrewdly and even cynically calculated to some extent, aggravated further by Meyers’ habit of backing away from thorny dramatic situations with broad, pandering stabs at crowd-pleasing humor. (It’s Complicated should really be It’s Far Less Complicated Than It Initially Appears To Be, but that wouldn’t solve her title problems.) But say this for Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin: They’re professionals, and their relaxed chemistry and good humor together carries the film surprisingly far, doing a lot to confirm Meyers’ wish-fulfillment fantasies about life beginning after 50.
Leaning on the natural, effortless ebullience of her performances in Defending Your Life, Mamma Mia!, and A Prairie Home Companion, Streep is immensely appealing as a divorced bakery owner and chef who’s about to be an empty-nester. Alec Baldwin plays her ex-husband, who left her 10 years earlier for a much younger woman (Lake Bell) and fully realizes that he’s a walking cliché. The exes already share a genial relationship, but between Baldwin’s frustration with his current wife and Streep’s pangs of loneliness, old feelings are quickly rekindled. But when Steve Martin’s divorced, unattached architect competes for her affections, too, the situation gets problematical. Or tricky. Or convoluted. Or some such synonym.
Though Meyers soft-pedals the betrayal part of their affair—the scene where Martin discovers the truth is so misconceived, it nearly ruins the film—Streep and Baldwin get the illicit thrill of it just right. There’s something old and something new in their time together, a sense of falling into familiar rhythms while also discovering each other for the first time. Baldwin, importing his devilish grin from 30 Rock, proves very persuasive, and Streep, as a sensualist by trade, can’t help but be persuaded. Her milquetoast relationship with Martin is less convincing, because what she gains in comfort, she loses in spark. It’s Complicated is the sort of “mature” character piece the French do regularly and better (and without the need for quotation marks around “mature”), but the cast at least helps relieve some of the tidiness that belies the title.