It’s Complicated (2009)

It’s very easy for critics to be sniffy about the oeuvre of Nancy Meyers: gentle, sometimes sentimental, romantic comedies about people later in life dealing with messy relationships and families. But I don’t know, I think her films have more going on than her detractors might allow. After all, it takes some skill to make actors like Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin into blandly appealing, even likeable leads when so much of their screen personae are based around being acerbic, dominating alpha males — to such an extent in fact, that star Meryl Streep (as divorcee Jane) almost gets the film stolen from her by this duo of her ex-husband Jake (Baldwin) and new flame, architect Adam (Martin). Sure it’s all very comfortable (and white) middle-class suburbia, people living in just-so houses doing delightful things like baking and architecture, but that’s these characters’ lives and it’s all put across expertly by Meyers and her actors. Within this world of existing jobs and familial obligations, the central relationship entanglement in which Jane finds herself almost doesn’t register, but it’s handled sensibly, in a mature way that most comedies can’t manage (especially those flirting with slapstick, as this does at times). It’s a pity that Lake Bell, a woman with plenty of comic talents both in front of and behind the camera, has such a thankless role as Jake’s vain new wife Agness, but that aside this is a likeable, warm-hearted film that works well when one is laying up ill on a sofa.


FILM REVIEW
Director/Writer Nancy Meyers | Cinematographer John Toll | Starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell | Length 120 minutes || Seen at home (streaming), London, Thursday 29 October 2015

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Ricki and The Flash (2015)

The Flash are a bar-room band and Ricki (Meryl Streep) is their lead singer. She’s in a relationship with the lead guitarist but isn’t willing to acknowledge it, and she’s estranged from her family (ex-husband Kevin Kline, a daughter and two sons) but events conspire to pull her back into their orbit after a decade away. It’s an odd experience this film, because I entirely believe in the characters — director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody put in all kinds of details that seem to ring true. There’s a faint sense of desperation around the edges, Ricki/Linda has a day job to make ends meet, there’s the bijou apartment she lives in, and the bar where she plays, with its name tacked hastily over the previous one outside. This care to build believable characters extends too to her ex, to her daughter (played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) and minor characters like the woman her son is marrying, dreadfully concerned with how things look to her conservative family. It’s just that I don’t buy any of the emotional relationships or character arcs: I don’t believe the decisions Ricki makes, and everything just seems too neatly constructed and overwritten. However, it’s a very likeable film in that old-fashioned way where every character has their reasons and we end up wanting the best for all of them.


© TriStar Pictures

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director Jonathan Demme | Writer Diablo Cody | Cinematographer Declan Quinn | Starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer | Length 101 minutes || Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Wednesday 16 September 2015