It’s Complicated

The message of “It’s Complicated” seems to be that it sure is tough being a wealthy white person in Santa Barbara. Boy howdy! First there’s your highly successful bakery that’s pulling in money hand over fist. Then there are the complications of building an addition to your house (in which you live alone, and which needs no additions). And then, to top it all off, the architect you’ve hired expresses romantic interest in you at the same time that you’re rekindling an affair with your ex-husband! Two perfectly good suitors fall into your lap simultaneously! Where will the nightmare end??

History teaches us that during the Great Depression, poor audiences flocked to movies about rich people, delighted to be whisked away to a glamorous world and escape their own dreary lives. But the current economic crisis isn’t as bad as the one in the 1930s, and people have found numerous other forms of escapism since then, so I don’t foresee “It’s Complicated” appealing to anyone other than people who can relate to it. The rest of us might find it a little smug, a little precious.

Written and directed by Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give,” “The Holiday”), it stars Meryl Streep as Jane, a well-to-do restaurant owner in her fifties who has been happily divorced from her husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin), for 10 years. While visiting New York for their son’s college graduation, Jane and Jake happen to stay at the same posh hotel, and happen to get drunk together in the bar, and happen to hit the sheets. You know, for old times’ sake.

Jake, now married to a younger woman named Agnes (Lake Bell) with whom he has little in common, is rejuvenated by the liaison with his ex-wife. Jane, however, feels guilty being a party to adultery, and knows — or thinks she knows — that a relationship with Jake would be a bad idea even if he were single. They had a relationship before, after all, and they ended it on purpose. Nonetheless, back in Santa Barbara, an affair commences.

Meanwhile, Jane has hired an architect named Adam (Steve Martin) to renovate her house, and the quiet, unassuming man clearly has a crush on her. Jake is the more vivacious gentleman friend, but Adam is more stable and responsible. What’s a girl to do?

First of all, she’ll need to have gatherings with her cosmopolitan girlfriends at which everyone drinks wine, eats appetizers with Italian names, and talks about plastic surgery and vaginas. Done and done!

The fact that Jake is unhappy in his marriage to Agnes is supposed to make it OK that he’s cheating on her. Would we be asked to accept that line of reasoning if Agnes were the main character? Probably not. But Alec Baldwin, riding on a new wave of goodwill thanks to “30 Rock,” has a great time playing a giddy, love-struck fiftysomething, and his rapport with Streep is comfortable.

Too bad about Steve Martin, though, completely wasted as a soft-spoken, button-down nobody. I realize you wouldn’t know it to watch most of his recent comedies, but Martin is one of the most talented comic actors in the world. Why cast him in a role that requires so little?

There is one scene that really made me laugh. It’s set at a party. Jane and Adam are there together, and so are Jake and Agnes. Marijuana is involved. There is much giggling and goofiness. Baldwin has a moment with John Krasinski (who plays the fiance of one of Jane and Jake’s daughters) that will live in your memory for years to come. This is also the only scene in which Martin is allowed to cut loose and enjoy himself.

I assume the title refers to the situation Jane is in, having to choose between Jake and Adam. (I hope it doesn’t refer to the “it’s complicated” relationship status on Facebook, because people Jane’s age shouldn’t be on Facebook.) But Jane is a plastic, prefabricated character, taken straight from the Nora Ephron Knock-off shelf at Movie Characters R Us, and her suitors are no better. Their banter isn’t witty. Their situations aren’t usually very funny. If a film isn’t going to show approximations of real people in approximations of real situations, it should at least give us entertaining fantasies. The stuff in “It’s Complicated” isn’t just simple — it’s simple-minded.

C+ (1 hr., 59 min.; R, some profanity, some sexual dialogue, some partial nudity -- filmmakers appealed for a PG-13 rating but were denied by the ratings board.)