It’s Complicated is the kind of movie where people keep telling Meryl Streep what a great cook she is, but you never see close-ups of any of her food. The film opens with scenic sweeps of Santa Barbara, where frigid, single pastry chef Streep jealously eyes her ex Alec Baldwin’s much younger new wife. Soon Baldwin tells her that he’s actually unhappy, and they leap into the sack. He’s into it, she’s less sure, and a cute-but-shy architect (a wasted Steve Martin) mucks matters up further.
The character names are irrelevant as the plot’s a hoary, hokey pretense to gather under the stars. Never mind that the stars are spectacularly misaligned. Streep looks uncomfortable playing discomfort. In a movie like Adaptation., the actress latches onto her naturally nasty, elevated smarts so tightly that a long-delayed, blissed-out smile feels like a dam bursting; here she babies her voice, furrows her brow, and drowns in gestures looking for a woman without brains. She swings and misses at Baldwin, who’s fine in bite-sized bits on 30 Rock but who’s got the wrong energy for romantic leads. He tends to slouch off to the sides of scenes and snipe at them rather than run full-force into their center. Writer-director Nancy Meyers, who trips over the movie in so many ways (framing everything statically, over-lighting, playing predictable soft rock songs, cutting like a kid with construction paper), practically breaks her neck giving Sloppynova all the big speeches. Baldwin’s simmering butter-voice is best when subversive, but he sounds as sincere on the power of love as Dick Cheney does about Constitutional rights.
In a great (or even good) romantic comedy, the humor comes from personalities rubbing up against each other, expressing fears and desires as real, intelligent people might, avoiding the matter at hand for most of the movie, until that one moment, however fleeting, where they glance silently at each other. That’s the moment when you know characters are in love. In It’s Complicated, the people are too busy talking to ever let that moment happen. The rom com is a talky genre, sure, but the people here never say anything interesting; the script is all situations and no jokes. Everyone laughs in every scene but the audience, then someone tells Streep they liked her chocolate croissant.