Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's Complicated: William Sonoma Goes Hollywood

The past few weeks, there's been a corporate fight between Cablevision (my local cable channel) and Scripts (the producers of Home and Garden TV and the Travel Channel) that has resulted in HGTV being off the air.

It's been going on long enough that apparently my inner home-show gene activated its survival mechanism and forced me out to see It's Complicated, a barely concocted comedy for women of a certain age, staring Meryl Streep (as Jane) and Alec Baldwin (as Jake) as a divorced couple in their late fifties who discover they still have the hots for each other.

The plot of this inoffensive enough affair is of little consequence, but I do must say that the designer Santa-Barbara style house is fabulous, the flowers perfectly arranged, and food photography worthy of a cover spot on Martha Stewart Living. If William Sonoma were launching a cable channel, this would be its flagship film.

Until I saw this movie, I'd forgotten about the word "yuppie," but there doesn't seem a better adjective that one can trot out from the dictionary of Eighties slang than this to describe this languid affair. It's not so much that the couple in the film both exude the self-absorbed happy-peppy self-indulgence and pre-washed wealth of that over-exposed generation (Alec Baldwin's constant boyish celebration of his naked, unhealthy girth, rubbed in our faces with deluded intimations of supposed sexiness, strikes me as the perfect Yuppie metaphor); it's that the entire production has the feeling of mid-Eighties soap opera of the Dallas/Dynasty variety.

In some cases, the jokes are better (there's a nice zany bit about Jane and Jake being surreptitiously observed by their son-in-law while meeting for a quick poke at a local hotel, as well as a humorously staged scene of pot-induced dating revelations when Jane and her latest boyfriend - Alex, played with sleepy understatement by Steve Martin - and Jake and his wife attend a graduation party for their son). These bits are funny (I laughed, despite myself) and there's no doubt that the intended audience, women in their fifties and sixties, were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The story is humorous enough when it needs to be, it's just that the self-satisfied wealth (Jane, who lives in a seaside Santa Barbara paradise worth - at least - several million buckaroos, find hers kitchen "limiting" and spends most of the movie planning an addition) and the oblivious narcissism of the characters (she is so out of touch with the world around her that her children are mere happy props in her home style decorations, and she needs a psychiatrist to tell her what to feel) made me want to hate this film, most of the time. Jane and Jake are essentially spoiled well-off sixty-year-old teenagers (there's no way she should could afford that house selling five dollar croissants at her Whole-Foods-ish boutique store): clearly this movie was in the can well before the economy crashed, since it now seems to come from a completely alien world of fantasy upper-middle-class luxury, as if that's the most relevant thing on people's minds.

There's no point summarizing the plot: it goes where you expect. Jane and Jake threaten to get back together, although there's the complicating inconveniences of a new boyfriend for Jane and an existing young wife and kid for Jake, until Jane wises up and realizes...I don't know, that that getting back with Jake wouldn't be complicated enough? That the movie needs a third act? It doesn't much matter.

Part of the problem may be Streep, who is a brilliant dramatic actress but imbues Jane with so much complex interiority that we take her predicament too seriously. Someone like Diane Keaton (who basically performed the same role in Nancy Meyer's earlier version of this story, Something's Gotta Give) would have been more over-the-top, with a heightened comedic reality that might have softened the yuppie ostentation a bit. Watching Streep pick perfect ripe tomatoes in her overstuffed, manicured garden while analyzing her affair with ex-husband Jake is a cliche almost to the point of creepiness: the scene had me ready to find a Saturday-Night-Live actor burst into the frame at any moment to make some self-aware postmodern remark about Jakob Krutzfeld disease or Haitian refugees or something else equally deflating. But unfortunately, that didn't happen.

I may be being too hard on this film. It's not like any animals were killed (though a few more cute dogs might have heightened my enjoyment), it's competently directed (even if Jane and Jake's three kids bounce and hug like Tellitubies every time they enter a scene), and it's certainly passable enough - and probably enjoyable, if you're the target demographic for stuff like this. If you're not, however, don't say I didn't warn you.

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