Does Nancy Meyers hate women? The thought ran through my head not very long into It's Complicated, Meyers' biennial stocking-stuffer about the romantic trials and tribulations of obscenely privileged and narcissistic Southern Californians. Once more into the breach goes Meyers to show us what women really want, this time with Meryl Streep as a Santa Barbara restaurateur "of a certain age" faced with a smattering of life-altering crises: the fading of her youthful visage; the empty nest as her youngest child departs for college; and, in willful defiance of the down economy, an impending addition to her already enormous home. She is also, like most of the female protagonists in Meyers' films, a highly strung, self-pitying, sex-starved nag defined expressly by the men in (or out of) her life. It's complicated, indeed.
Not that Meyers is particularly more charitable (or honest) when it comes to her male characters, who are on hand mainly to act like pigs, usually by ignoring radiant women of their own age in favor of hot-to-trot chippies. Nothing if not an "auteur," Meyers spent most of the '80s and '90s married to the filmmaker Charles Shyer, with whom she collaborated on the comedies Private Benjamin, Baby Boom and Father of the Bride, and it's telling that the solo features Meyers has made since their divorce (What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give) have increasingly felt like poison-tipped valentines to her former partner.
In Meyers' most thinly veiled work of self-portraiture to date, Streep's Jane Adler has been sidelined by her philandering lawyer ex, Jake (a puffy Alec Baldwin), in favor of the 30-something Agness (Lake Bell), who, in the natural order of the Meyers universe, is a ball-busting gold-digger eager for Jake to sire her child. When Jake and Jane cross paths at their son's New York college graduation, it isn't long before they fall back into each other's arms—and into bed—while Meyers' shopworn comic tropes fall into place: naked 50-somethings examine their flab and contemplate plastic surgery; naked 50-somethings feign horror at the sight of fellow naked 50-somethings.
Watching this garish fiasco, I found it mildly depressing to see Streep hurtling through this gauntlet of strained whimsy, her every toothy smile and throaty chortle more affected than Sophie Zawistowski's Polish accent. That was before I realized that Jane's soft-spoken, silver-haired divorcé architect, Adam, was being played by none other than the live-wire Steve Martin, in what may be the most anesthetized, emasculated performance he has ever given. Then I was really depressed.
In her last picture, The Holiday, Meyers littered the dialogue (and the title) with references to the classic Hollywood screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s. In It's Complicated, she doffs her beret to the Gauls by having Jake remark that his and Jane's fling is "very French of us." If the French Meyers admires so much made a farce about two ex-spouses having an affair—and, surely, they have by now—the characters wouldn't be drawn in such robust caricature, the screenplay riddled with such reductive assumptions about the battle of the sexes.