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Porn For 50-something Women, Nancy Meyers' Film 'It's Complicated'

In entertainment, women on January 1, 2010 at 8:19 am
A picture taken on January 16, 2009 shows US a...

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If you take the broadest view of porn, as that which stimulates desire, have I got a movie for you.

I know, films are meant to be fantasies, but this one — so deliciously lubricious in its parade of the pleasures older white women arguably crave — takes the cake. It even merited a New York Times Magazine cover story, written with a distinct wistfulness by its mid-life author, Daphne Merkin.

In it, the central character, Jane, played by Meryl Streep, lives in a house that’s about 3,000+ square feet, with a red-tiled roof, exquisite landscaping, a huge, immaculate jardin potager and a kitchen bigger than my living room. But (no recession here!), she wants an even bigger kitchen, the kitchen of her dreams. Oy.

She’s been divorced for a decade from her lawyer husband, Jake, who left her for a hard-bodied young’un (that part I believe) with whom he is now unhappy, (not quite clear why), who suddenly, ardently and insistently begins declaring he never lost his love for Jane (distinctly not clear why.)

It’s the ultimate revenge fantasy that the rejecting hubby comes crawling back. Gloss this with eyeball-rolling sex with him (good for her) and her memory of how to make his favorite meal (good for him) and the scene where they smoke a joint together; I guess this passes for deeply transgressive mid-life behavior somewhere since it won the movie an R rating.

Jane hires Adam, an architect, to design and create an addition (?!) to her gazillion-dollar home — the money coming from…?

Jane runs a bakery.

I wonder how many women: 1) snag and hang onto such a great house post-divorce, especially after their lawyer husband bails; 2) start and run a business so effectively they can afford such pricey real estate, let alone an addition; this film is set in Santa Barbara, home to such mega-celebs as Oprah herself; 3) raise three apparently solid kids, now 20, 22 and 27 alone yet 4) who still pronounce themselves shattered, a decade later, by their parents’ divorce.

It’s a pretty gauzy, Vaseline-on-the-lens vision of late middle age. Jane’s wardrobe is nothing but silk, linen and cashmere, the sort that’s always hard to find outside of pricey boutiques and fab gold jewelry; I admit it, I really want the necklace she wears in almost every scene and those yummy Pomellato amethyst earrings. No Target for her!

Now she’s fending off two guys at once, one of whom — sorry, I spluttered at this one — says “Your age is one of the things I find attractive about you.” If she’s so tough a businesswoman it wrecked her marriage, as Jake tells us it did, surely she might ask, “Really, why?” Instead, she melts with relief and gratitude that a guy with white hair and a fancy job is paying attention to her.

The sadder reality is that so many divorced women Jane’s age don’t run their own thriving business but instead are are scrapping out there in a crappy job market, also fighting age discrimination, can’t find a guy who isn’t looking at women 20 years their junior and usually plunge post-divorce into a much-reduced lifestyle (lawyer husbands tend to fight hard and well in this respect.) Many kids do actually find their feet young and quickly, as they must, when Dad splits for the much-younger woman, not pouting about it even after graduating college.

The movie has many terrific laugh-out-loud moments, but its central premise is as sweet and thin on sustenance as one of Jane’s chocolate croissants. She frets about never having sex, as though taking care of things herself wasn’t an option. And hasn’t she heard of match.com or EHarmony?

Her girlfriends in the film, all in their 50s, it appears, would have come of age in the 1970s at the height of feminism. They’ve somehow gotten all the material goodies.

But empowerment?  Not so much.

  1. Spot on about the movie, Cailtin. And a lot of fun to read.

  2. This is the type of movie that, demographically, is supposed to send me running to the mall multiplex. Never does. Such movies, including Something’s Gotta Give, just insult my intelligence. I’d rather watch AMC’s Three Stooges marathon, which, I proudly admit, I did.

  3. I went, hoping against hope I’d really enjoy it. But I found the whole Yupworld tedious and Jane spoiled and meh…

    I actually did enjoy Something’s Gotta Give, although, as others have pointed out, Meyers’ MO is to make late-middle-aged women feel like Sex Goddesses, at an age when many of them feel quite the opposite.

    We watched The Thin Man last night and oh, I love Myrna Loy. I just want to be her.

  4. Wow, gang, why so harsh? Of course there are suspend-your-disbelief moments in this movie but it was hilariously entertaining to watch Streep and Baldwin together. (OK, I’ll admit to being skeptical of that Santa Barbara hills home on the income from a bakery, too. I live in California and believe me, you can’t buy a $15+ million spread on the proceeds from a few chocolate croissants.) I think instead of nitpicking this to death, however, we should be glad women filmmakers like Nancy Meyers are in a position to make such hits in a Hollywood environment that’s usually so hostile to women. She (and 60-year-old Streep) are making history and paving the way for the movie studios to make films I’d like to see more of, that is, one with an actual storyline and great acting. Bring on Streep. And Helen Mirren. And Judi Dench. And Susan Sarandon. And Christine Baranski. How nice that a hit movie actually starred two people that were in same age range and the same league, rather than the usual 60-something actor and the 20-something actress!

  5. Caitlin, we saw the movie as well over the holiday and found it wanting. The supposition that most people would find a desire to hook back up with an ex-spouse seemed far-fetched and the cavalier attitude about adultery seemed curious too. The kids aren’t troubled by that, but by their confusion about a divorce that as you point out happened a decade earlier and they’ve yet to “process.” The indulgence and decadence of the surroundings (the real estate, the stuff, and all else) just makes you wonder that perhaps if you have so much stuff you run out of real problems to worry about so you manufacture them in self-indulgent ways. John Krasinki was very funny as the prospective son-in-law and Streep, Baldwin, and Martin are always good to watch. But the script and story just seemed to applaud all the wrong stuff and neglect the notion that very little of the audience would share in any of the values or trappings of the film. How was Preston Sturges so able to effectively capture what he did in his films about challenged relationships even when they were among those in upper classes?

  6. imho, yes, of course I am glad to see a woman director with some Hollywood clout. I also agree that an age-appropriate relationship was a nice change of pace.

    It also frustrates me there are so few women with the ability to get a major picture green-lighted and produced and distributed. But it does raise my expectations for something much smarter and more challenging.

    I liked “An Education” a lot better, also helmed by a woman…

    • Haven’t seen “An Education” yet (on my list), but the fact that I have to go out of my way to locate an art house theater that’s playing it demonstrates you’re comparing apples and oranges. “It’s Complicated” is as mainstream as it gets, and does a great job of fulfilling its mission of being both entertaining and a huge draw.

  7. Maybe that’s true. That may also be a reflection of my own tastes, which are usually not so mainstream.

  8. Saw it today with my hubby. Perfect escapism for New Year’s Day … absolutely nothing to do with my life, but most movies don’t. And no surprise it was set/filmed in Santa Barbara … those gals down there are a different breed, and not who I’m used to hanging with. But I still enjoyed it … esp the pot smoking scene. Steve Martin can come to dinner at our house anytime, esp if he dances. And Meryl can bring her chocolate cake. Alec Baldwin can drive the two of them.

  9. I spent today seeing “Invictus” and “Up In The Air”, both of which I found much more satisfying.
    I don’t play rugby or live in an airport, either, but the characters were much more sympathetic, for me, and the stories more interesting.

    • Gotta admit, as a living-alone woman of a certain age, I loved both It’s Complicated and Up in the Air. Of course they’re unrealistic, but hey, they didn’t claim to be cinema verite. And the idea that Jane could have two delicious men chasing her (and btw, not really all that unusual for someone to have divorce regrets when the second marriage goes kerflooey) and that I’ve-forgotten-her-name could be living the double life instead of Clooney — hey, bring me more movies like this. Many more.

  10. Claudia, I agree there are some good bits in “It’s Complicated” — I didn’t say the whole movie stinks, but I was disappointed in its relentless focus on wealth and I didn’t find Jane such a compelling creature. Jake seems to want her back because…she nurtures him. His second wife is a witch. He chose her.

    Wanting Jane bak so badly is lovely and all, but who doesn’t want the comforting familiar? It doesn’t say much about who she is in herself beyond her willingness to take care of his needs.
    I also saw no reason why she decided not to take him back – nor why dweeby Adam was so much more interesting a choice.

    I found “Up in The Air” a much more challenging and powerful film in — jargon alert — the notion of a woman’s agency, that Alex is the shit here and not the man. That was radical and awful and compelling to me. In contrast, I found Jane predictable and dull.

    • Oh, I don’t think I’d particularly want Jane as a friend, either, she’d bore me to death. But you make light of the idea of “who doesn’t want the comfortable?” I think that’s the point — that the allure of he new (young) and sexy pales quickly, and the allure of the known and comfort(ing) resurges. And the lure of the person who makes him feel less manly because he’s having trouble impregnating her, or less desirable because he’s put on a few pounds, hard to discount that

      All in all, though, I agree with you, Up in the Air is a much, much better movie, both cinematically and feministically.

  11. Alex Baldwin has become the over-exposure champeen of the decade, kind of a new Kevin Costner or Nicholas Cage whose face you just can’t avoid, kind of like Ronald MacDonald’s.

    Think I’ll skip this one.

  12. Fascinating string of comments. I saw it last night with my 19-year-old daughter and we both found it a hilarious revenge fantasy – just as you describe, Caitlin. I know so many divorced women, and my daughter has far too many friends in shuttle-diplomacy kid-dom, and we thought the movie got the loneliness, loss, and complex jumble of emotions right. The entire movie, we both, independently of each other, were hoping the character did not take back her charming and manipulative ex-husband at the end. The fact that she didn’t give in for his sake and for her children’s sake is to me the movie’s strength and strongest message. The pot smoking and old-people sex, the great jewelry, house, and garden – that’s the “porn” and what made the movie great fun.

  13. Give me a break “Porn for 50 something women” is that supposed to be a new stereotype? I find this comment to be offensive in a patronizing way. Shame on you! Speak for yourself.

    50 something women know what porn is and
    “It’s Complicated” ain’t that!

    I love romantic comedies in general.

    I saw this with my husband this weekend and we both enjoyed it. It was nice to see a light romantic about people our ages.

    I was entertained and that’s all I wanted. It was well worth my time and money.

    “Up in The Air” is a loser because with so many people out of work watching a story about insensitivity in regards to this is a bit much to ask.

    I go to the movies for escapism and entertainment and I would love to have Jane as a friend.

  14. My wife and I saw Up in the Air and enjoyed it very much. Great dialogue, and I absolutely loved Clooney’s controlled and orderly being. The Alex twist was a clever and thought-provoking surprise.
    I would have loved to have been present for the pitch meeting. I mean, can you imagine listening to the plot idea — layoffs etc. — and the studio saying, “You got to be kidding. How depressing!” And the guy with the idea says, but it’s a George Clooney movie.
    So, my question is: would this movie ever have been made without him in the traveling man’s role? I seriously doubt it.

    • let’s throw in another hypothetical. Say there were women on the decision committee. And the pitch was, “here’s a gorgeous guy who thrives on non-commitment, meets this cool woman, is won over at least in part by her total lack of desire to make him commit, falls in love with her — and discovers he’s not her heart’s desire, but simply the out-of-town dalliance…”
      Believe me, women above 40 on that committee? You wouldn’t need George Clooney to sell it…

  15. Eileen, did you think the Adam character was so compelling though? I found Jake less obnoxious than I found Adam a snooze and wondered — other than the fact he was available — what made him so attractive.

    Lewis, what a film! But the film differs from Kirn’s book (did you spot him in two scenes?) in the emphasis on someone who fires people for a living — that was changed for the screenplay to make it more relevant in the recession.

  16. Caitlin I also wasn’t attracted to Adam (and neither was Meryl Streep’s character at first) but thought his character mostly a plot vehicle. The fact that an intelligent, accomplished man found Streep attractive represented future possibilities…. Regarding Jake, my daughter and I rather fixated on a detail of the plot that we thought rendered him a “tool” – her label. Remember the line about how Jake had cheated on Streep with Agnes (the younger woman,) who then ran off with another guy and had a baby, then returns to Jake and they marry? To us, that meant he was one of those older men who are so panicky about growing old that they need to see themselves reflected in the eyes of a younger woman. So he allowed himself to be Agnes’s doormat. Meanwhile his ex is growing confident and successful.
    Regarding the Clooney movie, Lewis, it’s another woman’s revenge fantasy to my circle of woman friends. The “unavailable man” gets his comeuppance. It didn’t have to be Clooney; could actually have been someone younger and hotter physically, like Brad Pitt.

  17. Eileen and Claudia, interesting takes on Alex’s heartlessness. I didn’t find Clooney despicable or worthy of contempt — and the way she treated him, to me, was pretty contemptuous. I was saddened by what she did, which isn’t to say women can’t or shouldn’t be sexually casual — but she was married, couldn’t be bothered mentioning it and seemed to really lead him on.

    Maybe it is the ultimate revenge fantasy for all the married men who “forget” to mention this to the women they have affairs with…

  18. My second posting on this and this film is now making money which means there will be more for everyone to nit pick as well as love.

    I want to see more female directors and successes such as this help to make this a future possibility.

    I liked the film and hated up in the air I left the theater depressed. Sad watching people lose their jobs nothing entertaining there for me.

  19. My second posting on this and this film is now making money which means there will be more for everyone to nit pick as well as love.

    I want to see more female directors and successes such as this help to make this a future possibility.

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