Nancy Meyers probably wasn't going for irony with the title of her new comedy It's Complicated. If you've followed her career as writer and director over the past 30 years (Private Benjamin, Baby Boom, Something's Gotta Give), however, you'd realize that "complicated" isn't exactly the word that best describes her work. She's not edgy or groundbreaking, but she's figured out something that few of her contemporaries have - how to make a whole lot of people laugh a whole lot of the time.
It's Complicated finds Meyers returning to her successful formula of adults trying to pretend they're keeping it together while actually turning into basket cases. The occupant of the basket in this case is Jane Adler (Meryl Streep), who thought she finally had her life figured out 10 years after her divorce from Jake (Alec Baldwin). But the college graduation of her youngest son and the threat of an empty nest muddle Jane's thinking to the point that she has a fling with a married man - and that married man happens to be Jake. The old fires seem to be rekindled, but Jane wonders whether the new/old relationship is a healthy one, especially when a nice guy like Adam (Steve Martin), the divorced architect working on her house, is also available.
The setup is vintage farce, and Meyers generally knows how to pitch the payoff scenes that such a setup demands. Baldwin has fun sneaking around jealously while Jane entertains Adam, and the big showpiece is vintage Meyers: Jane and Adam showing up at her son's graduation party stoned, and enjoying themselves way too much.
Most of these scenes work because Meyers has such a keen sense for handling actors. Martin worked with her previously on the Father of the Bride films, and here he shows the same combination of warmth and loose-limbed physical comedy. Baldwin has certainly demonstrated his comedic chops over the last few years on 30 Rock, but Meyers gets a slightly different side of him. And Streep gives depth to someone who wants to believe that past heartbreak can somehow be made whole again.
Critics haven't tended to be enthusiastic about Meyers' films, and it's easy to understand why. Her gags are not generally subtle ones, and she wears her sentimentalism on both sleeves.
But It's Complicated is satisfying, both as a comedy and a character piece about grownups not always sure how to act like grownups. Nobody's going to teach Nancy Meyers movies in film schools, but studios are going to keep hearing the cash register ring when she makes them - and the reason isn't complicated.