In a made-for-Meryl film, Baldwin is a worthy match
Officially, “It’s Complicated’’ is a Meryl Streep movie. As Jane, a well-to-do baker and businesswoman having an affair with, Jake, her married ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), Streep deploys all her best moves. The pseudo-menopausal power-walks are here. So are the eye roll that could pull planets out of alignment and the sing-songy line deliveries. In other words, she’s in movie star mode, and she’s irresistible. But Baldwin achieves something not many men have been able to with Streep: You notice him.
It’s fair to say that Baldwin has always been an asset to any movie (his “I am God’’ monologue in the 1993 thriller “Malice’’ deserves enshrinement in the great, ludicrous movie-speech hall of fame). But “It’s Complicated’’ unleashes an unabashedly, desperately romantic side of Baldwin that we haven’t seen before. He doesn’t steal this movie so much as grant all Streep’s fluttering and twirling and hand-fanning an exuberant counterweight.
Jane and Jake divorced 10 years ago. He married a younger, harsher woman (Lake Bell), whom we’re meant to hate. The college graduation of Jane and Jake’s son leaves them alone together in a restaurant. Fueled by what a montage of the evening suggests are 20 cocktails and 30 bottles of wine, they wind up in bed together, and the morning after launches the movie into all of its comedy.
She rues the whole thing. But he’s reborn. The look of deep satisfaction on Baldwin’s face is hilarious and, for an American movie, shocking - when has a man made that face after sex with any woman, let alone one as senior as Streep? (Meryl, you know what I mean.) If the movies need a new star, it’s Baldwin’s middle-age executive type, a man capable of having a good time in what’s ostensibly a woman’s world. He’s does it every week on “30 Rock,’’ the closest thing to Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges that we have.
Soon Jake is trying to get Jane to meet him for trysts, which isn’t easy for her since his adultery is what ended their marriage. But his certainty is persuasive. Baldwin might be harder to resist than Streep. Jake starts stalking Jane, who just started dating the nice architect who’s redoing her house. Baldwin spies the other man’s car and does a crouching paramilitary run across Jane’s lawn to get a look at the competition. It’s Steve Martin, and one of the movie’s running gags is that Jane keeps forgetting he exists. Frankly, so do we.
At 52, Baldwin is porky. When he took off his shirt the night I saw the movie, women in the audience gasped - and not in a Taylor Lautner way. But Baldwin has an alluring, virile gusto, despite the weight. He’s Rock Hudson trapped in Fred Flintstone’s body. The difference between him and all those sitcom fatties is that Baldwin doesn’t seem constricted by his girth. When he’s with Streep, the sex and bliss come through: She makes him feel like Rock Hudson.
This is how you suspect his great “30 Rock’’ character secretly feels about Tina Fey’s traffic accident of a TV producer. But he’s too well bred to go there. After this movie, losing it for her would be both sweet and sort of embarrassing. Could the same man fall splat in love with Meryl Streep and Liz Lemon? Would you want him to?
“It’s Complicated’’ was written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who we’ve recently learned is the biggest woman director in Hollywood, having scored hits with “What Women Want,’’ “Something’s Gotta Give,’’ and “The Holiday,’’ which nobody saw in theaters but is now unavoidable on cable. She’s not much of a filmmaker, but she is one of the very few directors to cast her gender in a literally flattering light. She doesn’t know all women but gets a specific, upper-middle-class one very well.
This new movie is another batch of cute and broad strokes. It’s also nauseating middle-age bourgeois porn. The characters talk about their rooms at the Four Seasons. At Jane’s restaurant, the lentil salad with shrimp is $11.75. Someone drives a Prius, and the music at a climactic house party thrown by a recent college graduate includes, impossibly, Leo Sayer and the Beach Boys. And where are those fabulous opening shots of the bluest water and the comeliest real estate perched on the cliffs just above it? Capri, you say? Lake Como? Ha! It’s Santa Barbara!
Watching some of the actors in Meyers’s movies pop their eyes and make wild gesticulations, you’d swear she’d cast Muppets in these parts. This time that honor goes to John Krasinski, who plays Harley, Jane’s older daughter’s fiancé. Harley knows about the affair, and whenever he sees Jane or Jake, he spins around or waves his arms. Tall and thin, he’s a human exclamation point. But Meyers, for once, puts this kind of comedy to good use since Krasinski’s older costars are foils for effective if undignified mugging.
“It’s Complicated’’ is the most emotionally sophisticated of all Meyers’s fantasies. Jane, for instance, is actually allowed to think about which man to choose. It’s a no-brainer, but Streep has a kind of wise forbearance that recasts the whole affair in a rational light. It flattens the ending. But you see where Jane’s coming from.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.