Despite being predictable, ‘Complicated’ is satisfying

Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin star in ‘It’s Complicated,’ the new film by Nancy Meyers.
Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin star in ‘It’s Complicated,’ the new film by Nancy Meyers.
By Christopher Smith,
Posted Jan. 07, 2010, at 7:07 p.m.

In theaters

IT’S COMPLICATED, written and directed by Nancy Meyers, 119 minutes, rated R.

The new Nancy Meyers movie, “It’s Complicated,” really should have been titled, “Well, It’s All Just Sort of Manufactured.” The film is pat, it’s predictable, we’ve seen revisions of its story countless times before — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable, which it is. And that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t see it, which you should.

Meyers based the movie on her own script, and what she features here aren’t lines you recall upon leaving the theater or complications that linger but a terrific ensemble cast that works hard to achieve that effect. Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin star, and they go a long way in making this slight romantic comedy as good as it is. And that’s pretty good, especially since Streep and Baldwin, in particular, came to play.

As Jane and Jake Adler they become unhinged as a divorced couple living in Southern California while trying to make the best of a sour situation for their grown children. Jane has been single since their divorce 10 years before, when Jake had an affair. She now has a successful bakery, but she hasn’t had sex in so long there’s talk among her girlfriends that she has to take action — and fast.

Jake is now remarried to Agness (Lake Bell), a much younger woman far prettier than her name suggests. She has had one child from hell with Jake, and she is determined that Jake will give her another. On a tidal wave of fertility pills, Agness is a hive of grumpiness, so hormonal she’s a force to be reckoned with. Trouble is, when the three run into each other at an event, what Jake sees in Jane is a woman who has come into herself.

Just look at her, gleaming and blond against the backdrop of the ocean. Just look at her, about to be alone now that their children have grown up and moved out. For Jake, the idea that Jane will be living by herself again is an inspiration. He’s successful — and randy. She’s successful — and to him, more beautiful than ever. What to do? The film’s title tells us it’s supposed to be complicated — the couple have an affair while Jane tries to keep it from her children. Meanwhile, she’s being courted by Adam (Martin), the architect who has designed an addition to her house.

The lot of it is stridently manufactured, but what it isn’t is what Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”) does best — she gives middle-aged sexuality a face, she allows it to bloom and to breathe and she gives it a shot of meaning amid the disappointments and laughs.

She also understands that at this point in her characters’ lives, there aren’t many more chances at love. As such, there is something very much at stake should Jane agree to follow through with Jake’s advances and try to give their relationship another shot. It’s the pressure she feels from this, the excitement, the potential heartbreak, the confusingly good sex they enjoy and the fear hooked to all of it that make the movie satisfying and consistently watchable — especially given Streep’s apparently bottomless talent.

Grade: B

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

HALLOWEEN II, written and directed by Rob Zombie, 105 minutes, rated R.

Dear Rob Zombie:

Recently, on Blu-ray, I had the misfortune of revisiting your latest effort behind the lens, “Halloween II,” a remake of Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 horror movie with Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, and was struck with the same feelings of malaise, boredom and the urge to run as I did the first time I saw the movie.

But all that has passed. I now feel well enough to pass along a few additional thoughts on your movie’s risible execution as well as a few regrets for all of that unfortunate explaining you must be saddled with once again. No matter how you handle it — and I can only imagine it involves the lifting of a certain finger — trying to explain that you’ve made 2009’s worst film has to be trying. And for that reason alone, I feel sorry for you. Sort of. OK, not at all.

About your movie. Well, it’s just a bloody windbag of exploding cows, butchered bodies, nasty necrophiliacs, bloodletting gone berserk and madness running rampant, isn’t it? As John Carpenter proved in the original “Halloween,” most of this could have been handled with a measure of finesse, sustained suspense, violence that was implied instead of exploited and a core character — Laurie Strode (now played by the grating Scout Taylor-Compton) — whom you come to care about. All of that is lacking here just as it was in Rosenthal’s weak sequel. As a result, your movie is a crude pandemonium of the pathetic.

Let’s talk about Laurie for a minute. In Carpenter’s hands, she was the good girl with the clean mouth and the bad hair who loved children and carved for them cute little pumpkins before Michael Myers wreaked havoc on her life and turned her into a screaming banshee. In Rosenthal’s hands, she essentially only reprised the role to be on the run from Michael while providing her share of shrieks. In your hands — literally, since you dictated the script (to an illiterate?) — Laurie now sounds as if she has graduated magna cum laude from the four-letter school of hard knocks.

What a mouth on that one! Your Laurie is about as likable as a fist in the face — her presence in a room could darken its walls — and so the key element missing from your movie is someone to root for. I could not have cared less about your Laurie. In fact, I kind of hated her. Same goes for the story. Just so we’re on the same page, remaking a horror movie doesn’t have to be a horror show. But here, you’ve essentially run a knife through the franchise’s gut. And then you do it again and again. Rinse and repeat. Hammer away and hammer hard.

Thing is, beyond the ongoing sense of confusion you generate onscreen, you feel nothing in “Halloween II.” The whole movie is a misreading of what makes a horror film good — attention to the main characters (Malcolm McDowell’s performance as Dr. Loomis is a Razzie in the waiting), and especially attention to designing a landscape that allows suspense to roam and mount. Instead, you overwhelm with a barrage of gore while stuffing in a stupid back story that revisits — through hallucination, no less — why Michael Myers became the serial killer Michael Myers (Tyler Mane).

With broad nods at Freud (that’s deep), this apparently involves the use of a gleaming white horse and the ghostly vision of Michael’s mother (your real-life wife, Sheri Moon Zombie). Some will remember that Michael’s mom was a pole stripper in your last movie, 2007’s “Halloween,” also a bum remake, but here, she’s aglow with empty eyes, vapid dialogue, a white wicked witch wig and plenty of mean ideas. I’d say that’s an improvement. Also, it must be noted that the mere fact that you featured this talentless never-was in another movie suggests a healthy marriage and true love. So, let’s toast to that. What we can pour our drinks over is your movie.

Please don’t make another.

All best,

Christopher

Grade: F-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/01/07/living/despite-being-predictable-lsquocomplicatedrsquo-is-satisfying/ printed on July 22, 2014