I have a theory that Meryl Streep’s unlikely ascendancy from perennially Oscar-nominated accent-diva to our last remaining bankable movie star might have something to do with her laugh. Sure, we grew up watching Streep in The Deer Hunter and Sophie’s Choice, accepting her brilliant, actorly technique as a given, but a part of her always seemed aloof and inaccessible, even when the dingo ate her baby.
It was sometime during Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion, when she was having a voluptuous giggling-fit, that I realized I now have a crush on Meryl. There is such a lightness and joy to her work these days, even in something as amateurishly wretched as Mamma Mia!, all of the sudden she seems to be having the time of her life.
Her It’s Complicated co-star Alec Baldwin went through a similar transformation not too long ago. Middle-aged paunch unleashed the comedian that was always lurking inside this weirdly intense, tormented Method actor. (Sometimes when watching him on 30 Rock I find myself laughing at jokes that aren’t funny, but Baldwin takes such delight in the performance he can sell even the most suspect lines.)
Casting is key, and obviously Nancy Meyers’ It’s Complicated doesn’t have to do much besides put these silly dynamos next to one another and let them enjoy riffing on one another. Playing a couple that’s been divorced for a decade, Streep and Baldwin drunkenly hook-up the night before their son’s college graduation, and spend the rest of the movie negotiating the horny after-shocks of this unlikely tryst.
Baldwin’s remarried to a bitchy younger woman (Boston Legal’s Lake Bell, harshly photographed to give Streep the advantage) while Meryl finds herself in a tentative courtship with Steve Martin’s sensitive architect. Martin’s made a habit lately of trying to ape Bill Murray’s uncanny mixture of art-house street cred and kiddie movie pandering, and now in the ultimate homage he plays this role with Murray’s flattened, sad-sack line readings. Give it up, Steve.
Like most Nancy Meyers movies, It’s Complicated wallows alarmingly in ostentatious displays of wealth. But there is no denying the giddy chemistry between Streep and Baldwin. They’re both having so much fun here, it’s contagious. I only hope someday I can take as much pleasure from my work as these two obviously do right now. B
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