I think it boils down to a fundamental philisophical difference of opinion.
I just plain don’t like the stories Nancy Meyers tells or the people she tells stories about, and I don’t believe the behavior of anyone in her films. I think she is a terrible observer of human behavior, and as a result, the “comedy” in her films hits me all wrong. I find myself irritated with her characters and the situations instead of laughing.
In a way, I’d say “It’s Complicated” is her masterpiece, by the technical definition. She’s taken every single thing I despise about her work and cranked it up to eleven, and the result is a film that I found infuriating. She’s never gotten further under my skin, and so it’s obvious she is refining her approach from picture to picture. There has never been a film that more fully embodies all that is “Nancy Meyers,” and perhaps that’s why I spent most of my time watching my screener of this film wishing for it to end.
To be fair, Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, and John Krasinski all do exactly what they were hired to do, and with a fair amount of precision. They are all expert comic actors, and they do their very best to make it interesting. Watching them flounder and watching the way they score laughs is genuinely educational. Baldwin, of course, has ripened into one of the biggest cheeseballs in Hollywood, and in the most glorious sense of what that means. He is ridiculous on “30 Rock,” a lunk of a cartoon of a lunk. It’s a special sort of actor who can make the jump from “movie star male lead” to “beloved comedy presence,” and I think Baldwin’s done it better than William Shatner, precisely because of the ways he lets the brakes off his male ego. He’s got it cranked up here, but the script just isn’t good enough to give him anything really worth doing.
Meryl Streep, who has had one of the great late career resurgences of anyone working, male or female, is all giggly and girly here, and that’s one of her big tricks. When she gets silly, the grosses quadruple. I would say she’s better and more precise in “Death Becomes Her” than in “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Mamma Mia” or “It’s Complicated,” but she’s not giggly in “Death Becomes Her.” She’s scary and freaky and wicked, and that’s not as easy for the audience to rally around. I get why women love her in these films, and I get the way they look up to her and identify with her and want to either be her or be her best friend. But that doesn’t make this a good movie. I have a real problem with films where the main character starts as a winner with everything, and their only real problem is wanting more. I look at Meryl Streep’s life in this film, at her $9 million Santa Barbara home, at her successful and fun business doing what she loves, at her grown kids who all look like model citizens with bright futures, and I have trouble thinking there’s much of anything for the film to “solve.” And that’s not the point.
That’s why I use the term “lifestyle porn.” I think these are movies that some women put on and watch and think, “Ah, if only all the hard work was behind me and I could just coast on a cloud of money and I could focus on which of the many adoring men in my life makes me cum the hardest. How wonderful that would be.” And so, here’s that film. Steve Martin is a guy who frustrates me a bit these days, but only because I have such genuine esteem for the work he does in general. At his best, Martin is one of the best of our comic actors, and he has a few moments with Streep where you can see just how well he both scores points and supports a partner in a comedy sequence. He and Baldwin are pretty much everything that Meyers can imagine wanting from a man, and there’s no choice to make here. She’s so afraid to generate any real drama that she makes the mistake of making the choice meaningless. There are no stakes. There is no better option. It comes across as arbitrary pique rather than love that guides Streep. The audiences for these movies don’t WANT complications. They don’t want things to be difficult for Streep. That would ruin the fantasy. That’s stress that they get plenty of in the real world, so in a Meyers film, they want inertia and inevitability.
The film is technically aglow, and that’s part of the fantasy. Everything’s lush and beautifully lit and copper pots and million-thread-count clothes. Meyers makes movies that look like movies, but if you go back and read my piece from Sunday about “Manhattan,” that’s the type of film Meyers thinks she’s making. People may dislike Woody Allen as a person based on what they know or think they know about him, but at least his films feel like they are honest about his experience of the world. Meyers is the opposite. I don’t think she’s ever expressed something like reality or honesty in her films, and I don’t believe her voice. And in the end, for me, no matter how technically adept something is, that honesty test is all that really matters to me.
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