Tuesday, February 09, 2010

'It's Complicated,' But Surprisingly Accurate

Movie reviews are not my forte, so I'd like to limit my comments to several important aspects of a thoroughly enjoyable comedy.

This Home News Tribune column was published on February 3, 2010. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, "It's Complicated" focuses on the seemingly rekindled romance of Jane Adler (Meryl Streep) and Jake Adler (Alec Baldwin), who are the parents of three terrific children and have been divorced for 10 years. According to New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis, "Ms. Meyers transforms a divorced couple into a romantic couple, which suggests a belief in love enduring, even after a marriage dies. That sounds wonderfully romantic, or a prescription for pathology — maybe both."

Dargis describes Meyers' movies, which usually focus on independent women, using acting veterans like Streep, who "takes this character and makes you love her, just as Mr. Baldwin does with Jake, who, with his shark smiles and thrusting gut, beautifully conveys male vanity in its twilight."

But my realism detector was registering low numbers while my comedy meter was registering high ones. Connie Ogle (Miami Herald) hit the nail on the head, explaining, "A quick and completely unscientific poll of divorced women in the immediate vicinity indicates that the premise of Nancy Meyer's latest film — that women can't resist romance with their ex-husbands — is more of a fantasy than the flying lizards in "Avatar.' "

Aside from the unrealistic romance-after-divorce main theme of the movie, I found several subplots to be accurate, even praiseworthy. First and most important are the children. How cruel (of parents) to tamper with the unattainable fantasy of the children of divorce, that Mom and Dad might someday get back together. Hats off to Hollywood for not scripting another "they all lived happily ever after" ending.

The Adler children, who are appropriately still devastated from their parents' divorce, observe Mom and Dad sneaking around from one secret rendezvous to the next. The children react with shock and confusion. This is beautifully portrayed by the three twenty something children coddled up together in one bed, waiting for Mom to enter and explain what the heck is going on.

The Adlers appear to be having a pretty good divorce. Worth sharing are Elizabeth Marquardt's poignant words from her book "Between Two Worlds" — "I want to shake loose those glaringly wrong assumptions: that divorce doesn't matter if parents get along. That divorce doesn't matter if the kids don't look like damaged goods. That divorce doesn't matter as long as parents keep loving their children. We also know instinctively that divorce should be a last resort, that even a good divorce is far worse than what some call a good enough marriage."

Last is Baldwin's plea to Streep to reunite as he warmly reminisces about family dinners, aging gracefully together, and how hectic those early years of marriage were when they were raising three young children. (My problem is that I can't enjoy a Saturday night comedy without the research part of my brain kicking in, similar to what my wife mocks as my quirky habit of curling up with a good book — and a yellow highlighter in hand.)

This is another accurate portrayal by Meyers. Plentiful research has shown that marital satisfaction decreases with the arrival of each child. Additional research indicates that marital satisfaction significantly improves when the children grow up and leave the nest.

Unfortunately, Baldwin's character, Jake, left the nest for greener pastures way before his children did. Had he only stuck it out through the challenging times when there were young children at home, he wouldn't be in this complicated mess. Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site — www.FamilyThinking.com