While I am a day late and a dollar short, over the holiday season bloggers and gabfest worlds were abuzz over the Meryl Streep rom-com Its Complicated. One of the better reviews was a morality-critiquing post by Alyssa Rosenberg. To Rosenberg’s credit, she was the only person I came across whose movie-going experience was diminished due to the plot’s shallow treatment of the charming but hedonist characters. Alyssa downplays the interiors of their homes and makes much of the interiors of their lives.
To quote Rosenberg, “it is not remotely okay for Streep's character to have an affair with her [remarried] ex-husband.” She goes on to decry the protagonist’s behavior: “Streep's character, despite behaving recklessly and selfishly, gets everything she wants.” Reading this was a paradoxical experience. Repeatedly I had to admit Alyssa was absolutely correct and yet I was uncomfortable with her appraisal.
The movie is fantastic in depicting the outcome as being ideal. Some hurt feelings, a cry and a hug later and all is back to homeostasis. Most unconvincing was the resilience of her carved-from-cream cheese children. With as world-shattering as divorce can be for children, I wish I childhood had been as bad as theirs. The children of the story only go to augment our perception of the earth-mother Jane who can seek her own self-interest at negligible expense to those around her. I think if children were typically so well-adjusted after divorce and affairs we would not find them so upsetting. The fantasy projected is not that adults would have to change their behavior, but that children would change their natures.
The material demands a light touch on the real-life consequences. It’s Complicated reminded me of another movie I have reluctantly accepted my attachment to despite the subject material: Same Time, Next Year, which is about an adulterous pair that meets annually at the same location of their first tryst. It’s one of my favorite movies and more judgment-worthy due to the length of the affair.
For all its flaws, It’s Complicated demonstrates Meryl Streep’s Jane as a certain female ideal of long-suffering. In a post-feminist world, new generations of women are right to both embrace sex while correcting for poor choices in men. In every generation, albeit more pronounced in Streep’s, women can’t kill the hydra of appeal that comes from dangerous men and charming womanizers. To top it off, the divorced two have a history. I can only imagine that there is something magical in coming back to someone when they know every crevice of your – personality. Love is multi-faceted and maybe we can delight in its many forms.
I was watching another Penn Says, and in the most recent that has been inhabiting my conscious thoughts, Penn Jillette (shallowly?) rejected a friendship with a woman who refused to sleep with Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix (course language in the link). Penn quotes a friend who believes the purpose of life is to acquire as many great stories as possible. I am inclined to agree, even if that means I am most certainly not fulfilling my purpose in life. Salon published an article in 2004 with an unforgettable title: What French Girls Know -- Young girls in France learn early in life that happiness is not as important as passion. It’s a great article extolling the carpe diem life. I suppose my own dreams parallel the one in It’s Complicated, which is why it is such a fun romp. Alas, I’m Steve Martin and wide awake.