It’s Complicated (2009)

Rated: R for some drug content and sexuality.
Length: 120 minutes
Grade: CD+D-C=D+
Budget: $85 million
Box Office: $234 million (113 U.S., 103 Intl., 18 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Nancy Myers (The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give, The Parent Trap, directed What Woment Want, wrote Father of the Bride 1+2, Baby Boom, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Irreconcilable Differences, and Private Benjamin)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin
With: John Krasinski and Lake Bell.

Summary: Several years after their divorce, a couple reignites their romance despite the fact that he is remarried to a much younger woman.

Entertainment Value: C
Like so many movies these days, this is a mixed bag in the entertainment category. First, it has many funny parts, laugh out loud funny parts, although most of them came after the 45 minute mark. At the same time, however, it’s a really weird movie. Steve Martin is just plain bad in his role as the semi-desperate but wounded other man. In fact, Martin is just slightly more than all the rest of the characters in feeling very much like they’re all playing roles and reciting lines. Because of this, none of the characters are particularly believable as real people, more like well-edited forms of certain stereotypes that perhaps a modern sexual liberal wants to believer exist in the real world but only do in movies. But more than that, it’s just unsatisfying, both throughout and at the end. Also, the editing is terrible and noticeably so. So, funny but weird, a C is the only fair verdict I can give.

Superficial Content: D+
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity D, Violence A, Language C+
The big issue here is adultery, semi-sexual scenes, implied sex, and sexual discussion including an extended discussion of female anatomy,. The entire premise of the movie is the okayness of infidelity with your former wife. There is also an extended scene of marijuana use, which is sort of a minor theme in the movie, and occasional alcohol consumption and drunkenness. Language is fairly mild, maybe only PG if that’s all the movie had. The only violence are some slapstick type scenes, and in context that’s surely not what would keep you from this movie. I say R-15.

Significant Content: D-
Divorce is hard, or, to quote the movie, complicated. Feelings of affection and the momentum of intertwined lives linger on well after a marriage ends. Extra-marital sex is a perfectly acceptable and even liberating way to resolve these feelings, even if it means a remarried partner is committing adultery. If that woman stole the man through adultery in the first place, then it’s actually a kind of relational justice. Women want to think they don’t need a man to be whole, but maybe they really do.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Perhaps because of the complexity of the situation and probably because of Nancy Myers’s long history of writing movies like this, there are plenty of things to talk about here. That’s the good news. However, the terrible production value and editing and fakeness of the whole thing ratchets this value back to another mediocre mark. On the other hand, this movie really gets at some of the truly tragic aspects of divorce, including the loss of shared history and knownness which can never truly be replaced merely because they require time to establish.

Discussion Questions:
~One of the themes in this movie is over the question of labeling a relationship properly. Given the clarity of labels such as married, single, and engaged, why does modern society struggle with labels for the new relational constructs? How do labels help clarify our moral judgments?
~What does Jake seem to miss the most about Jane? What does he want from her now?
~When Jake argues to Jane that their sexual connection was “real and honest,” what does he mean?
Jake (and perhaps Jane, too) seems to think that the way to find out if a relationship is real is to have sex. This will show whether they “have something.” What are the consequences of this way of approaching sex? How accurate a representation of modern sexuality is this?
~Why do you think their sexual encounter would have been so satisfying to both of them? What would have happened to their affair if it hadn’t been? Why is marriage so different from non-marital relationships when sex isn’t so satisfying at any point?
~Jake tries to convince Jane that this affair is a healthy choice for them. Do his arguments have merit?
~Are any of these characters’ choices driven by an awareness of morality or ethical propriety, or are they all driven basically by selfishness, whether constructed elegantly or carnally? Is it fair to say that the essential conflict between traditional morality and modern self-help psychology about whether it’s ever best to do what you don’t want to do and might even be to your own detriment? What is the Christian perspective on the benefit to self of sacrificial behavior and suffering?
~Clearly one of the themes in this movie is the injustice of successful older men leaving their aging wives for more attractive women. Why is this so unjust? In what way might a middle-aged woman watching this movie view Jane as a sort of hero who gets symbolic revenge on all the younger women who do this?
~In what ways is this movie supportive of divorce and in what ways critical of it? Why is the portrayal of the three children as being essentially healthy and well-adjusted so important to this movie’s premise?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Jane revealing her affair to her friends and seeming to wrestle with the morality of what she’s doing. Why do the friends so quickly squelch the one who points out that there might be something “sort of wrong” with this behavior? What ideas about entitlement and propriety are operating behind the idea that she never does anything wrong and so she’s “allowed this one?” Does the fact that Agness committed adultery against Jane justify Jane’s doing so back against Agness later? Why do you think she struggles with the ethics of this relationship more than Jake does?
~The second time Jane and Jake have sex at her house. What is symbolized by the fact that now she sleeps on the other side of the bed? Why is she so reluctant to have him see her naked, even though they’ve just had sex? What is the difference between how we worry about our bodies when we are married compared to when we are not? What does the willingness to be seen naked say about our level of security and intimacy in a marriage?
~The adult children lying in bed comforting each other and Jane explaining everything to them. What truths about divorce and the processing of it by children does this scene reveal? Why is her use of the phrase, “Now we’re divorced, for better or for worse,” so poignant?
Overall Grade: C-
A sometimes hilarious movie with odd characters and plot that nevertheless places its finger on some very uncomfortable aspects of modern sexuality. Unfortunately, the resulting worldview is primarily about self-satisfaction and happiness rather than about obligation and moral principle, so that things which are truly immoral become merely unsatisfying choices. The celebration of selfishness is overwhelming.

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