IT’S COMPLICATED

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Overall Impression – A movie that generates small smiles instead of big laughs — which I can only assume was not the intent of the filmmakers.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who’s your main character? – Jane (Meryl Streep.)

What’s she trying to accomplish? – Professional: Decide if she should give her ex-husband another chance. Personal: Find love.  Private: Be okay being comfortably middle-aged.

Who’s trying to stop her? – Noone, really.  She has her own uncertainties, and her ex-husband’s nightmare of a wife and stepson are certainly an issue, but Jane’s obstacles are really her own doing.

What happens if she fails? – Absolutely nothing.  She either ends up with her über-repentant husband (played nicely by Alec Baldwin) or ends up with the puppy dog eyed  architect who adores her (played by the largely wasted Steve Martin.)

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan – The last of Jane’s children is off to college and she is, for the first time since her divorce 10 years earlier, completely alone (except for her great house, great job, great friends, and great life.)

Wanderer – After attending her son’s graduation in NY, she hooks up with her ex-husband and has a drunken fling with him, starting the process for Jane of trying to figure out how to be the ‘other’ women; even if it’s with her ex-husband.

Warrior – As the smitten architect who is remodelling her home becomes more smitten with her, Jane has to fight to keep her relationship with her ex from spiralling out of control, keep her kids from finding out (supposedly, we are told towards the end) so that they don’t get hurt again by their mom and dad’s relationship, and decide who she really wants to be in love with.

Martyr – Because she has two suitors, each one eager to be with her and neither one a total jerk, Jane stands to lose little or nothing.  She seemingly gives up nothing, sacrifices nothing.

AND, IN THE END…

IT’S COMPLICATED is a movie that suffers from a surfeit of star-power, much of it misplaced. Meryl Streep has trouble finding a date?!  Alec Baldwin is a good guy?!  Steve Martin is earnest?!   One can imagine the excitement as word came in that these three agreed to be in the movie, but however good they are on paper they do not serve the needs of the story.

The  movie is also hamstrung by it’s own gentility.   The average audience member can no more relate to the polite, warm, and (dare I say?) ‘uncomplicated’ lifestyle of the protagonists than they can relate to the characters in a Victorian comedy of manners.

Another problem with the film is that we are told many things but shown very little.  We are told that Jane hasn’t done the deed in 10 years, but we aren’t shown why.  We are told that Jane doesn’t want to hurt her kids, but we don’t see that they’re damaged goods, though they tell us that they were in their incredibly well-scrubbed undamaged way.  We are told that Jane’s ex-husband is a jerk, but he’s actually…uh…nice.  In many scenes, he’s a lot nicer than Jane.  Perhaps that’s the point of the story: how JERK plus TIME plus INTROSPECTION equals NICE GUY, but again we are told this in a speech by the ex-husband.

The story itself is as mild as the characters inhabiting it.  With the exception of deciding not to subject her kids (all young adults) to the vagaries of starting up a relationship with their dad again, Jane seemingly has very little going on that will fall apart regardless of who she chooses to be with.  SOPHIE’S CHOICE, it isn’t.  Ultimately the story collapses from being top-heavy with talent and bottom-light with conflict.

Here’s a bad pitch version of the same story, just a little different: Jane’s bakery business is failing, her kids have all moved out, she’s barely holding onto the house because she’s poured every penny she has into keeping the business going, she hasn’t gotten laid in a decade…and into THIS situation comes two guys.  The first is her rich ex-husband who had been a world-class jerk and may or may not still be (Jane can’t tell because he’s really ‘walking the walk’), and the second is sweet, sincere architect Adam who is caught between a rock and a hard place: Jane’s really late paying for the plans for the renovation she can now no longer afford (Adam’s boss wants Adam to collect NOW!) however he’s falling in love with her.    Oh, and Jane is played by Kathy Bates, not Meryl Streep.

– Jeffrey Alan Schechter

4 Responses to “IT’S COMPLICATED”

  1. David Goulet December 11, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    I like your pitch! I’d add some Nazi vampires though. Seriously though, I’d like to see the script for this one. It can’t be as boring as the film you just reviewed. Can it?

  2. printer troubleshooting December 29, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    WOW 🙂 It’s too bad more people haven’t heard about this site, it had exactly what I needed today 😀

  3. JayV January 20, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    Yeah, I’d rather see your movie, though I could probably live without either of them! Having said that it’s not (immediately) clear to me how your version is going to deal with the same themes.

    More seriously, isn’t it entirely appropriate for the antagonist in a character-based story to be the hero themselves? Isn’t that kinda the point?

    Discuss. 🙂

    • totallywrite January 20, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

      Sometimes the hero can be their own worst enemy, but these films have a spotty record of attracting audiences. Watching someone else going on a journey of self-discovery can get pretty old, pretty fast.

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