By Colin Covert
Meryl Streep heads back to the kitchen in “It’s Complicated,” this time making chocolate croissants on-screen. She shapes and flours the dough, cuts and stretches and rolls it with precision as Jane, the owner of an upscale bakery/restaurant.
If only the craftsmanship in that cooking segment had been brought to bear on this film. Writer/director Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give,” “The Holiday”) never pushes for a hard truth when she can reach for an easy laugh. She’s like an industrial device, stamping out 100 percent pure-plastic midlife female fantasy.
Jane, an idealized fiftysomething, lives in a palatial empty nest. Long divorced from Jake (Alec Baldwin, with a lewd twinkle in his eye), she’s sending their youngest off to college. It looks as if home-improvement projects and chablis with the girls is her lot in the golden years ahead. When she and Jake cross paths at a garden party and fall into a comfortable rapport, each feels a forgotten spark. So the entanglements begin.
As promised, it gets complicated, with a series of discreet hookups concealed from the Adlers’ incredulous kids and Jake’s new wife, Agness (Lake Bell), a hard-bodied young nuisance. It’s not really adultery, argues Jack (a lawyer, natch), if they’ve been married before. Jake falls in love with Jane all over again. She’s intoxicated with their easy old-school intimacy.
As they rekindle the hearth fires, Jane draws the attention of her shy architect, Adam (Steve Martin), who’s designing an addition to her home. He’s divorced, too, but less impulsive (and less fun) than the madcap Adlers. Jane likes his levelheadedness and doesn’t like playing the other woman. Torn between the men, she faces the decision of a lifetime.
Well, on paper anyway. Meyers never excites us emotionally or imaginatively. What sells “It’s Complicated” is its comforting, tame luxuriousness; clips of this film could be in-store promos for Crate & Barrel.
Meyers, a screenwriter for years before becoming a director, doesn’t trust images to tell her story. Everything is made overexplicit. Jake can’t just smile at Jane; he must tell her over and over that she is mind-meltingly awesome. Jane can’t quietly glow with satisfaction; she must beam and flap her arms just a little as if she were trying to propel herself off the ground. Adam can’t just lighten up a little after an impish hit of pot; he must go full-tilt wild and crazy.
A subpar film can become a hit if it offends no one and has a few outstandingly amusing scenes. There are several here. Baldwin is a good sport about being photographed in the buff, and a sequence where he covers his vital parts with a laptop computer is as nicely done as anything in a Blake Edwards sex farce. John Krasinski supplies funny reaction shots as the Adlers’ prospective son-in-law, working manfully to conceal his befuddlement at what he alone observes is going on.
If you want to take your mother to a nice movie this weekend, this is probably the one she will like best. Unfortunately, there’s not an honest minute in it.