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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

Michael Jackson:
The Interviews
Vol. 2 (2009)
. "It's Complicated"

There's nothing like giving Meryl Streep ("Mamma Mia,") one of the most resourceful and creative actresses on the planet, a challenge. Only... when it's a concept from the pen of girlie romantic-comedy writer-director Nancy Meyers, it's not a challenge in the service of art, but of artifice. You might do your best to make it complicated, but when it's this superficial, it doth grow tiresome.

Plus, the principle characters are so rich, the title might have been more honest if it were "It's Comfortable."

As it is, the complications revolve around Jake (Alec Baldwin) who, having gone through his mid-life crisis by divorcing Jane (Streep) and marrying babe Agness (smokin' Lake Bell), now, after ten years have gone by, realizing that he wants the woman he left behind back.

She, however, isn't so sure. The owner of a thriving bakery shop with kids in or on their way to college, Jane is torn between the good life she's carved out for herself and the allure of resuming it with a man she clearly still has feelings for. So it is that, after evincing all the squeals, nervous laughs and mood swings of a sophomore, Jane tries it out with a romp in the satin-covered hay.

Then, she meets Adam (Steve Martin), the architect who has so pleased her with his drawings of the new building she wants built on her rambling, manicured property. Now this is really a complication. Or is it? Meyers goes on with it as though it were, forcing the fab Ms. Streep to repeat her chosen character quirks until they induce nausea. Hey, she's a great actress who, in the trappings of bi-coastal wealth is looking mighty good, but with material like this she can only expose the fact that there's some material she can't rise above. Personally, I don't hold the nonsense she's forced to do something with against her.

In order to make Jake's discontent with a woman men would crawl over hot coals for, Agness is characterized as a demanding shrew. Well, all right. Plenty of grist to go with the high-priced salad circle of deep-pocketed women Jane meets with regularly for commiseration and bad advice. (Consisting of Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson and Alexandra Wentworth).

Doing better in this context is Baldwin whose desire for his former happiness leads to steady, sometimes humorous stratagems that he handles with exemplary self-effacement. He's mr. savoir faire cum Casanova, handling the grown up kids he parented with his object of affection, as they witness what their father has been brought to do to win back their mother, with equal elan and parental control.

Also helping the pacing to a significant degree is John Krasinski as older son Harley without whose wisdom in understanding what's going on might have led to wholesale egg-on-your-face moments of awkwardness. He helps move it along with a modest appeal. He's cute, ready for anything, and affable as all get out.

In trying to make a clear contrast between the two men in the leading lady's life, Martin plays it close to the vest with an air of alien-like reserve, patient, understated, holding something back in order to make the denouement somewhat reasonable.

There are some giggles here, but most of them are coming from Streep as she goes through her litany of coy indecisiveness which usually ends with the desired reaction. So much effort; so much waste. Something like it worked for her portrayal of Julia Childs in "Julie and Julia," but one can only hope this satisfies her experiment in Meyers-comedyland and that she rushes back to pushing the envelope of her art in something that'll put her brilliance of characterization to a greater test.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Lake Bell
One or two people too many.

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