The Eyeball #33: Why It’s Complicated Actually Is Complicated


You want to watch an on-demand movie with your wife, something funny, something in which you can become invested in the characters’ problems, something from the “New Arrivals” section, and you keep scrolling back to It’s Complicated, a film starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, and you hate yourself a little bit for even considering it, but you are fond of Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock (you chuckle remembering his line about how his social club has a strict “bros before hos” policy) and you liked Meryl Streep in Adaptation, in fact you find it hard to dislike Meryl Streep in any way, as she has mastered some sort of mystical ability to project herself from movie and television (and computer, I guess) screens as someone both incredibly humble about the adulation that comes her way via formal (read: Oscar) recognition and the conventional wisdom that she is the Greatest Actress of her Generation, and while you attempt to dislike her for these very reasons, she deflects this dislike with her supernatural likeability skills to the point where you begin disliking yourself, wondering what the hell is wrong with you for even attempting to dislike Meryl Streep, and you see that the film also stars Steve Martin, triggering a quick series of (wildandcrazyguykingtutthejerk) associations, so you press “Purchase” because how bad can it be, what with these three respected actors whose filmed products you have enjoyed in the past, and as the movie begins you come to learn it is about a divorcee (Streep) with it seems three grown children, one of whom is going off to college, another of which, played by Attractive Blonde Actress who you imagine at one point made a phone call to somebody to scream “Ohmygod! Ohmygod! I got the part! I got the part! I’m going to be in a MOVIE with Meryl Fucking Streep and Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin and I get to play Jim from The Office‘s WIFE!” and indeed it is a pleasant surprise to see Jim from The Office here, as you enjoy his quips and asides on that show, and you think, that’s so wonderful that his career is coming along, good for him, he likes David Foster Wallace, and yet here comes the plot, all about a divorced couple (Streep and Baldwin) who rekindle their relationship (italics intentional because you have to pronounce the word as if you’re sighing it) over drinks at a hotel bar and the reason the movie has the title it does is that Alec Baldwin, who, if you made a bobblehead of him would move his head exactly the same way as the human Alec Baldwin, sort of side-to-side in a can-you-believe-this gesture, anyway Alec Baldwin (I have no idea what his character’s name is) is married to a high-maintenance yoga instructor, and then you understand that this movie was hatched in a room somewhere by a bunch of people who are really clued in to demographic trends, who looked at a fuckload of pie charts about the aging Baby Boom generation, their fears, their ambitions, their opinions on small businesses and desirable zip codes, before they wrote a single line of dialogue, because what you’re watching is a movie that may as well have been produced by the Social Security Administration, scientifically designed with a narrative precision rivaling the brilliance of those badass geniuses who came up with Viagra, and in a way Viagra could very well be the name of the genre this movie belongs to, as in “It’s a Viagra-comedy,” and you start to imagine these actors on set, Baldwin, Streep, and Martin, and whether they stayed in trailers during the shoot or were put up in a hotel somewhere nearby, because it looks to have been shot in a pretty spectacular neighborhood in maybe Northern California, perhaps Carmel, and you can imagine the private thoughts they must have had, the bawdy jokes Meryl Streep must have told, the firepower of decades of trained and honed wit in that room, as privately they thought, Fuck, it could have ended up so much worse than this, I could have ended up like Belushi and at night, after a day of filming, lying alone or post-coitally with their offscreen romantic partner, staring into the dark under whatever thread-count Egyptian cotton comforters, thinking, Even with this ludicrous wealth and privilege and delightful company I’m still going to die, my offspring are still going to think I’m scum [except Martin, who has none] and that day is coming soon, too soon, and the guy who was once the Wild and Crazy Guy and the guy who was once one of a cast of motherfuckers in Glengarry Glen Ross and the woman who was the Devil in The Devil Wears Prada (which, again, proving the mystical likeability theory, you enjoyed against your own will) shrug and think of something happy as they drift to sleep, and at this point in the actual movie you’ve made it to the scene where Streep takes Martin after-hours to the wondrous bakery she owns and tells him she’ll make him anything on the menu, to which he responds, “A chocolate croissant,” pronouncing it the proper French way (he did play Inspector Clouseau) and right here your suspension of disbelief is shattered because only a week or so ago you were consulting with the chef your wife hired to give you three private cooking lessons, guy named Jay who’d come to your house to show you how to handle filo dough and how to use brandy in a portabella mushroom dish, and according to Chef Jay making croissants is a time-intensive process involving much anal attention to temperature, not at all like the montage in It’s Complicated would lead you to believe, and your next thought is, I have a chef who comes over to my fucking house to give me private cooking lessons at which point your self-satisfied, Generation X snickering at the white baby boomer privilege on display in this cinematic adaptation of a Crate and Barrel catalog starts to feel a little disingenuous, a little uncomfortable, and then Alec Baldwin accidentally shows his dong to Steve Martin via a webcam, hilarity ensues, Jim Halpert from the office smiles sideways with his little mouth, grown children express their sadness, a Porche is driven, Steve Martin is looking old even for a guy whose hair has been white since at least The Man With Two Brains, popcorn is spilled on the floors of 18-plexes nationwide, the monogamous ideal is reassuringly reinforced, Meryl Streep is still charming, architects come to her home to start work on a luxurious new expanded kitchen, actors collect their paychecks, white wine is served at the wrap party, junkets occur in suites at a Four Seasons, and in darkened bedrooms all over the world the streams come to an end.

Ryan Boudinot is the author of the short story collection The Littlest Hitler (2006) and the novel Misconception. He was a DVD Editor at from 2003 to 2007. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and other journals and anthologies. He lives in Seattle and teaches creative writing at Goddard College's Port Townsend MFA program. More from this author →