The movie “It’s Complicated” opened Christmas Day. Given the rave reviews plastered all over full-page newspaper ads, and the fun trailer that showed promise of an actual adult comedy, I was very much looking forward to seeing it. Meryl Streep is an amazing actress, and I have loved every movie she has ever done – until this one.
The biggest problem with “It’s Complicated” is the premise. A long-married couple, divorced for ten years, has moved on with their lives. The woman, Jane, played by Meryl Streep, runs a successful business and has good friends. The man, Jake, played by Alec Baldwin, has remarried and is raising a child. Their shared children are now adults, navigating the world rather successfully themselves.
And yet, one night the two get drunk and have sex. Hilarious? I think not. This isn’t complicated, it’s adultery, and it’s not funny.
To make matters worse, rather than chalking up the experience to poor judgment and a bad mistake, the two continue their dalliance. This smart businesswoman confides in her friends, who egg her on. She seeks the advice of her therapist, and in the movie’s one truly honest moment she wonders why she has chosen to have this affair. Jane has a long list of reasons that she has considered including revenge and loneliness. She begs the therapist to tell her what to do, and he basically gives her permission to continue the affair, saying: “What could it hurt?”
It seems a renewed sex life has turned this once-wise woman into somewhat of an adolescent as she sneaks around, lies to her children, and convinces herself that she needs to be stoned on marijuana to have a good time.
Meanwhile, Jake is facing a kind of second mid-life crisis. He obviously hasn’t learned from his past experiences, because he is once again the cad, the philanderer. The child he is raising with his new wife isn’t biologically his, and he uses this as an excuse to shirk any responsibility. He lies to both his wife and his ex-wife to get what he wants. This man is a narcissist, and toxic to both women, although he has them blinded by his charms.
So what could it hurt? The woman is humiliated and almost loses a chance at real love. The man loses the respect of his children. The children are confused and afraid of additional pain. The future son-in-law is put in a position where he must lie to his fiancé. The current wife realizes she has been lied to and cheated on by the same man she is planning a family with. The woman’s potential boyfriend gets his hopes and dreams dashed just when he’s finally opened his heart to someone. And a little boy, who is finally bonding with his stepfather, may lose the only adult male in his life.
There may be some jokes in this movie, but it is not a comedy – it is a tragedy, a commentary about values.
What the characters in “It’s Complicated” really need, and want, is closure. And you can’t get that by having sex with the ex. Even after ten years of divorce there may be feelings of regret, of grievances, of sorrow and pain. But there is a formula to get through it, and to move on in a positive and powerful way.
At the end of the movie, Jane and Jake sit and talk, inches away from each other, but miles apart. There is a reason they were divorced in the first place. She says it wasn’t all his fault. He apologizes.
What these two people are really searching for from the beginning is closure. But do they have to go through all that they go through, and hurt other people and themselves to get it? Well, there wouldn’t be a movie if these characters didn’t mess up. It’s the slipping on the banana peel that gets the laugh. But in real life, the answer is no.
Closure is a process, one that we can move through maturely and deliberately. We can’t get closure from any other person, only from ourselves. And once we have it, we can move forward with our lives in a positive and powerful way – and not look back.
Here’s my new book:
"Closure and the Law of Relationship: Endings as New Beginnings"