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Movie Review

Divorce is messy. But getting back together afterwards? Well, that’s complicated—especially if somebody’s already gotten remarried.

After 19 years of marriage and 10 years of divorce, Jake and Jane Adler have inched into something approximating an amicable relationship. Jane runs a thriving bakery in Southern California, while Jake’s a lawyer trying to please his high maintenance (and younger) second wife, Agness.

Maybe part of their new sense of almost-friendship revolves around the common ground they share in their beloved young adult children, Lauren, Luke and Gabby. But Luke’s graduation from college in New York City unexpectedly destabilizes the Adlers’ status quo.

Jane is disgruntled to learn that she and Jake (who is traveling without his wife because her 5-year-old son, Pedro, is ill) will be staying at the same hotel. But when she bumps into him at the hotel bar, old sparks fly. One drink leads to another … and another … and dancing … and his hand on her back … and …

"That is the dumbest thing two people have ever done," Jane announces after they finish "rekindling" their relationship in Jake’s room.

Their drunken indiscretion soon blossoms into a full-blown affair. Jake believes the 10-year gap has resolved the problems that destroyed their marriage in the first place (never mind that he’s on the verge of destroying his second marriage). And Jane? She vacillates between guilt and the allure of a second shot at happiness with Jake.

Then, even as Jake insists he’s a changed (if cheating) man, a rival for Jane’s affection appears: a sensitive, divorced architect named Adam who seems to offer everything Jake is promising but failed to deliver in the past.

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Positive Elements

The picture of marriage presented by It’s Complicated is, as we’ll explore, mixed. Despite some significant problems, though, the film suggests that marriage and family are treasures worth preserving.

In the opening scene, Jake and Jane run into longtime friends celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. And it’s obvious that both Jake and Jane harbor regrets that their relationship didn’t go the distance.

While Jake seems to have little problem with the fact that he’s cheating on his current wife, Jane sees the affair for what it is. "You’re an adulterer, and I’m an awful person," she says. "What we did was wrong on so many levels." Jake suggests that it’s somehow not adultery because they were married for almost two decades, but Jane retorts, "Just because we were married 19 years does not not make this an affair."

Jane’s objections fade at times, but she’s never entirely comfortable with the idea of getting back together with Jake. She also tries to analyze what’s motivating her to have the affair. Unfinished business? Revenge? Loneliness? (She never really comes up with a solid answer.)

The importance of an intact family is perhaps most poignantly illustrated as Jake begins spending more time with Jane and their three children. The kids, who range in age from late teens to mid-20s, talk about how great it is to be together as a family. Luke, especially, says he can’t really remember a time when his parents got along.

When Jake and Jane eventually reveal to their children what’s been happening, all three leave, crying. Later they tell their mother how devastating the divorce has been for them and how confusing it is to learn that their family might be reconstituted after a decade of brokenness. Jane responds, "Knowing how to be divorced is next to impossible. … I hope you’ll forgive me for confusing you and betraying your trust." Thus, the damage caused by the divorce is neither marginalized nor laughed off.

Likewise, the damage Jake is doing to his current marriage is evident when Agness catches him staring at Jane. The hurt in her eyes tells another story of betrayal.

Jake’s renewed interest in Jane seems largely sexual at first. But as they spend time together, he tells her things he likes about her, apologizes for past wrongdoing and generally owns up to his failures when they were married. Jane, in turn, confesses her part in the divorce. "You didn’t blow it," she says. "We blew it." In retrospect, they can see how their demanding jobs helped suck the life out of their relationship.

When Adam eventually learns that Jane and Jake have been having an affair, he’s unwilling to go forward with the romantic relationship and insists that Jane take some time to work through things. "For everyone’s sake," he says, "I think it should get resolved."

Spiritual Content

Adam tells Jane that beginning a construction project in the rain is a good omen. Someone says, "Karma is the ultimate b‑‑ch."

Sexual Content

Jake and Jane kiss repeatedly. They’re shown in bed post-coitus in a couple of scenes, their clothes or robes in disarray. Jake touches Jane’s (clothed) crotch after one such encounter. He kisses her bare shoulder.

Squeamish at first about being naked in front of Jake, Jane eventually disrobes for him. (We see her shoulders. He faints.) We also see her shoulders and arms above soap bubbles as she takes a bath (while talking with Jake).

In the film’s most gratuitous scene, Jane and Adam are communicating via video link on their camera-equipped laptops. They agree to a bathroom break, and Jane leaves her laptop open on her bed. In an attempt to seduce her, Jake sneaks into the room and disrobes while she’s in the bathroom, then reclines on the bed (with the laptop screen obscuring his private parts). This is a rather ribald comedy, so Adam soon gets an unwanted eyeful of the nude man’s anatomy. We see his bare rear.

Agness wears a bikini-like top to a wedding. Jane’s eyes widen as she stares at (and the camera zooms in on) Agness’ utterly inappropriate outfit. Two other scenes picture Agness in a bra and underwear. Jake stares lustfully at Jane’s backside.

A subplot involves Agness wanting to have a child with Jake. (Pedro is from a previous relationship.) In one scene she orders Jake to hurry to bed because she’s ovulating.

Sex talk centers on K-Y Jelly, bikini waxing, a vaginal abnormality and sperm count. Jake goes on and on about how great sex with Jane is. He makes a crude allusion to oral sex, and he describes their new connection as "very French" in that he has a young wife and an "old wife."

Once the affair is well underway, Jane exhibits a "glow" that others notice. One of her Hispanic co-workers says she looks more caliente, the Spanish word for hot.

Violent Content

Adam notices scars on Jane’s wrists, all of which she (unconvincingly) attributes to cooking accidents.

Crude or Profane Language

One s-word. About 20 misuses of God’s name. A small handful of other profanities. We hear a crude reference to the male anatomy. Adam calls his cheating ex-wife a "ho." Jane’s girlfriends cheerfully label her a "slut." "Freaking" stands in for the f-word.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Jake reminisces about how he and Jane used to smoke pot in a hot tub. Then he tells Jane that he’s acquired some very good marijuana and wants to celebrate their renewed relationship by smoking it with her. Accordingly, he gives her a large joint—that she eventually begins to smoke before a date with Adam.

Both Jane and Adam inhale long drags from the joint, getting goofily stoned. They both comment on how much more potent pot is since they last smoked it decades ago. They also, of course, get the munchies. Jake and Harley (Lauren’s fiancé) take hits too. Jake blows smoke into Harley’s mouth.

Of note: It seems that it was this kind of unencumbered marijuana usage that earned this film its R rating. Los Angeles Times' Robert Ablon wrote, "Those familiar with the Motion Picture Assn. of America's hearing on the movie say a scene featuring 'pot smoking with no bad consequences' was key to the decision."

Jane and Jake have glass after glass of wine at the hotel bar, getting very drunk. Champagne and wine show up in several other scenes as well.

Jake mentions medications he’s taking, including Flomax, Lipitor and aspirin.

Other Negative Elements

Jane and Jake both lie repeatedly to cover up their affair. When Harley figures out what’s going on, he keeps their secret.

Jane’s friends are mostly supportive of her affair. Two of them think it’s "genius." One chirps that Jane gets to have all the sex without any of the cleaning, cooking or other responsibilities that go with marriage. Somebody makes a cutting remark about that institution, saying that another woman in the group is lucky that her husband is dead.

Regarding her affair with Jake, Jane’s therapist tells her, "Let go, it can’t hurt."

[Spoiler Warning] Just as Jane decides she can’t be with Jake, he announces that he’s left Agness for her.

Conclusion

It’s Complicated is an odd story in the way it comedically appropriates adultery as a foil to demonstrate the value of a good marriage and examine the factors that undermine it—overwork, under-appreciation and … adultery.

Its positive moments have to constantly compete with pot smoking, drunken sexual escapades, a bare backside and innuendo-laced jokes. They also have to compete with a worldview that’s ultimately weirded out by the idea that something (anything) can be always wrong.

Jane knows that her affair is wrong. But she excuses herself for a time—and audiences are invited to do so as well—because it was also wrong for her to have gotten divorced in the first place.

But as the old saw goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

To her credit, Jane realizes that, and decides she can’t get back together with her remarried ex. By the time she gets to that point, though, a lot more unnecessary damage has been done to her family … and to Jake’s.

I think the logic Jane uses to make her decision reveals a lot about how our culture approaches relationships today. She recognizes that her choice to have the affair is morally problematic—after all, she calls it what it is, adultery. But that’s not what compels her to call things off. No, it’s just a sense, an intuition that it’s not right for her. It’s not what will lead to her happiness. Still, she had to explore the possibility, she tells her kids. Just to see.

As is often the case in our culture, personal fulfillment is the guiding ethic here, not a sense of moral responsibility. Jane chooses the right thing … but for the wrong reasons. So what we’re left with is a bawdy repackaging of yet another old saw: "If it feels good, do it."

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Meryl Streep as Jane Adler; Alec Baldwin as Jake Adler, Steve Martin as Adam; Lake Bell as Agness Adler; John Krasinski as Harley; Caitlin Fitzgerald as Lauren Adler; Hunter Parish as Luke Adler; Zoe Kazan as Gabby Adler

Distributor

Universal Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

December 25, 2009

On Video

April 27, 2010

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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