It’s Complicated (review)

The Porn of Unattainable Aspirations

And now, for the woman who already has absolutely everything, some more.

Christ, but I hate Nancy Meyers’ movies. Nancy Meyers, whose every movie looks like Pottery Barn orgasming. When magazines are like this — most especially “women’s” magazines — they get called “aspirational,” in that they are explicitly aimed at people who cannot possibly afford the lifestyle or the fake “reality” they depict but like to imagine themselves living like that anyway. They are selling extreme fantasies in the full knowledge that are fully unrealistic and unattainable and yet — completely unlike actual fantasy movies, everything from the likes of Indiana Jones to Batman to The Lord of the Rings — hold out tantalyzing hopes, however remote, that they are within reach for the viewer. And then they also smack you for harboring such hopes.
Nancy Meyers makes the kind of movies that, when my mom goes to see them, she can’t remember a thing about the plot or the characters afterward, but she will remember that Meryl Streep’s kitchen was amazing.

Meryl Streep in, in fact, the only thing about It’s Complicated that is in the least bit endurable for anyone who would rather see a story than a kitchen, and Streep just about makes it worthwhile a looksee for her smart, sassy, sexy depiction of an “older” woman who is effortlessly smart, sassy, and sexy herself. And in such a way that makes you dare to believe that she is real, and not a fantasy. Unfortunately, everything else going on around her leads you to believe that Meyers herself doesn’t believe Streep’s character is real, but only the product of an imagination that has bought into the notion that no female over the age of 25 could possibly be desirable.

For there is a desperation, an overwroughtness to how Meyers tells us this tale of Streep’s (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Julie & Julia) Jane, a successful bakery owner in wildly upscale Southern California, and how she falls into having an affair with her ex-husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin [My Sister’s Keeper, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa], who is almost charming enough on his own to make this worth a look), while at the same time also being romanced by Adam (Steve Martin [Baby Mama, The Pink Panther], also very appealing), the architect she has hired to redo her kitchen. Can you imagine? A 60-year-old women with two men who find her attractive? Such never happens in real life, but you can enjoy the wonderful dream of such nonsense at The Movies!

Perhaps the most distasteful thing about Meyers’ films, which include the recent Something’s Gotta Give and The Holiday, is that we’re simultaneously meant to rejoice and be thankful that Meyers is condescending to give in to the outrageous reveries of women who have nothing but fantasy left — or so we’re meant to accept is the case — while she also underlines how ridiculously impossible those fantasies are. It’s like with that amazing kitchen. That’s the “before” kitchen, the one not good enough for Jane, the one she needs to clear away to make room for the “real” kitchen she has always desired. That’s how awesomely awesome Jane is, and how pathetic you the viewer are: the kitchen you’re swooning over is the one she can’t wait to get rid of.

So it almost doesn’t matter whether Meryl ends up with Steve, or Alec, or no one. Because the point isn’t what Meryl gets: it’s what you the viewer don’t get, you the poor sap of an undesirable woman with nothing to live for but fantasy. You’re not gonna get either Steve or Alex. Or that kitchen.

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