Two Stars – Shallow
While attorney Jake (Alex Baldwin) lives in a world where people are asked to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” the fact is that Jake couldn’t tell the truth if his life depended on it. Jake leads a well-financed lifestyle in Santa Barbara, California, has a trophy wife 20 years his younger, and is a man who thrives on getting what he wants.
In this same upscale world lives his ex-wife Jane (Meryl Streep), who has done quite well for herself during the ten years since they divorced. She holds court over a luscious and successful bakery business, is the centering around which her adult children revolve, and owns a Santa Barbara home that belongs on the pages of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
Their two parallel worlds function quite well until Jake and Jane’s youngest son is ready to graduate from college and the two families must come together for the celebration. It is then that life gets complicated.
While Jake may have left Jane for a younger woman, life in any relationship is never without its struggles. So when Jake sees his former wife successful and independent, enjoying a doting and charming group of offspring, he longs for the “good ol’ days” when they were a family together. He also remembers why he found Jane to be charming to begin with.
Never one to deny himself anything, his pursuit of his ex-wife’s affections leads to a complicated twist, albeit hilarious, on who becomes the “other woman” threatening the marriage. Jane and Jake begin an affair that is understandable yet troubling to its core.
People rarely end marriages with resolved issues and detached feelings. No matter how ticked off at the other person you might be, there are usually other compensating attractions that brought you together in the first place. “It’s Complicated” isn’t just about what makes us feel good, or asks if there is justice in the world, but rather it exposes a core flaw in our human condition and raises a fundamental question: Is a fulfilled life based upon getting what we want or is it about fulfilling our commitments to the things in which we believe? Is life just about me or is it about the larger “we” that is impacted by everything I do?
So, where do you turn to answer this question? Jane turns first to her friends, whose shallow responses are to only think about what makes her happy regardless of the unintended consequences. She subsequently turns to her therapist whose guidance is dangerously shallow with advice that implies life’s decisions never have any consequences. Ultimately, the people with depth who expose the folly of their parents’ behavior are Jane and Jake’s kids who have had to live lives impacted by their father’s narcissism. Also honest in his own reactions is Jane’s new boyfriend Adam (Steve Martin) who provides some very funny interludes as well as a dose of relational maturity and grounding.
“It’s Complicated” is a not-so-farfetched dramatic comedy that ultimately ends in a good place. You will have a good time watching it, but it is not going to ground you in anything other than a view that life is just a series of random choices that you make in pursuit of your own happiness. In that sense, it is a farcical romp that reflects the pervading shallowness of today’s culture.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. If our commitments are not producing the happiness we thought they would secure, do you believe we are right to break them? What might be another course of action?
2. The successful person often feels entitled. How do you keep your humility in times of success and how do you keep your confidence in times of failure?
3. Often our own children have a clearer understanding of who we are than we do ourselves. Why do you think that is true?