Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's Complicated

Your Place or Mine?

While having dinner with a friend the other night, I had unwittingly eavesdropped (well the tables were so close) on the table of two girls beside ours, talking about how their friend's fiance failed to get a ring to propose that was worth 3 months of his salary. Who makes these rules anyway? And it is these crazy social (if I may call it that) rules that you'll hear more of in the film, that makes it quite the chuckle on one hand, and also bewildering on the other, that writer-director Nancy Myers takes massages into the narrative . It's Complicated, indeed.

This is not about proposals or costs of rings, but about social stigma and expectations that creep up on couples no matter how young or old they are. The story gets set years after a couple's divorce, stemming primarily from the husband's infidelity, though all of the stakeholders can still get on in quite civil terms. You know the classic tale where husband leaves wife for a hotter, younger, better proportioned woman that gets complicated (that has to be to self-fulfil its title) when the new wife runs off, gets pregnant with someone else's child, and comes back to the man again. And the man now harbours thoughts about getting back together again with his ex-wife because his current one is driving him nuts no thanks to that generation gap, and the constant pressure for him to perform, sexually that is.

Yes don't be a prude, because some of the best lines and scenes stem from the sexually charged ones, that may raise plenty of eyebrows at how daringly comical it can actually become. I think it's one of the first chick flick films that I watched with a full house of women of all ages, and there was actual clapping and lap slapping during moments of hilarity. Much of the credit goes to the strength of Nancy Meyer's story, which just sprawls and yet her direction managed to keep a tight rein on the narrative pace, though there were a number of disposable characters introduced whom you think might last the distance but conveniently dropped in the first act after they tell the audience how to react, that having an affair with your ex-husband is not that wrong a wrong, especially sweet when you have a chance to get back at the woman who used to be the third party.

Meryl Streep continues in her reel occupation as a chef, and as an elderly woman whose children have all grown up, she finds herself lonely despite being successful in her career. This meant an opportunity to re-enter the dating scene especially with a potential Mr Available in Architect Adam (Steve Martin in an unfunny, serious role where laughter only comes when he's puffing a joint), only to find herself falling back, albeit physically, in good terms with her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin who really has piled on the kilos). It feels a little bit wrong where a divorce and breakup doesn't seem all that permanent, and worse of all having to find oneself rediscovering all the positive points during the times where things were still rosy. I particularly liked a point of discussion with a very interesting school of thought that all of an ex-couple's differences might be gone over time like a push of the delete button, that the relationship will be relegated to just ordinary friends, and like friends, can pick up from where you last left off, paving the way for a reconciliation.

In some ways, this senior citizen love story ponders upon the What Ifs about the ones whom we had unwittingly allowed to go, and it's quite pro-family as well with its scenes of a wonderful family if it had chosen to stick together, to regret forsaking everything for a moment of folly that one has to live with. In fact, Nancy Meyers succeeds in her well thought-through story in making you want to root for Streep's Jane and Jake to put aside their differences and get together, despite knowing what each did to the other through their reminiscence of the past. Both actors also bring plenty to the table with their excellent performances, and always never too shy to play up on the physical effects of aging too (check out Streep's left eyebrow!)

Nonetheless it's chick flick territory through and through, but weaved with agreeable, enlightening even, concepts that could be grasped by anyone who are currently in, have been or will be in a relationship. Just lighten up on those illogical, unwritten rules, that would really make things too complicated, for nothing.

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