Writer/director Nancy Meyers (responsible as a writer/director for 2003’s “Something’s Gotta Give” and 2006’s “The Holiday,” two of the more deplorable attempts at comedy I’ve ever had to sit through, even though they made money) must have her Ph.D. in cliché. In this, her latest, she uses a pop-up sprinkler as a phallic symbol and shows women to be blathering idiots when they all get together to talk. What do they talk about? In addition to constantly giggling, Meyers’ women talk about their private parts and their affairs. Meyers’ women wouldn’t be able to graduate from the sophomore class at the local high school, so inane and childish are their conversations. Meyers doesn’t have a clue how to make a slice of life scene that remotely reflects people who actually live (well, I’m making an assumption here; do adult women really talk like this when they are alone in their female get-togethers?).
This isn’t a bad idea. Jane (Meryl Streep) is a middle-aged divorcée who starts an affair with her married ex-husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin). She meets a nice architect, Adam (Steve Martin), who likes her. Her children are all over the place. It has good comedic prospects but not from this cast.
The problem, other than the inept writing and direction, is that the entire cast is woefully miscast. Streep is apparently trying to spend the rest of her career proving what she can’t do. She proved in “Mamma Mia” that she can’t play musical comedy, ruining an all-time favorite musical. In “Julie & Julia” she proved she can’t do straight biography by demeaning Julia Childs with an insulting caricature. Here she proves she can’t do straight comedy. Streep is not a comedienne. About all she does here is laugh but laughing is not comedy. Comedy is timing and talent. Comedy is making other people laugh and, in that, Streep fails. Only in the last ten minutes, when she shrugs off her comedy shtick, does she show glimmers of the talent that has been attributed to her (and which she exhibited in 2008’s “Doubt”) but, by then, it’s too late for this movie.
But she isn’t the only person miscast here. Baldwin is at sea in his part as the newly-smitten ex-husband. Actually, Martin might have been much better in this role than Baldwin. Since they had Martin in the cast, they couldn’t have lost anything by giving him a shot. Martin doesn’t add much in his straight role (and his one comedic bit as high on grass is cringe-worthy), although he’s not bad. But the sad fact is that even though he used to be a stand-up, his movie attempts at comedy over the past two decades have been dismal. There’s a big difference in being funny in a monologue and being funny in a movie. Even so, he certainly couldn’t have been worse than Baldwin. As to Martin’s role, Baldwin could have handled it easily since it doesn’t require much talent or range. But as long as I’m wishing, Hugh Grant would have been spectacular in the role, even given the low-quality material and maladroit directing.
The only person in the cast who knows how to portray comedy in film is John Krasinski as Jane’s son-in-law-to-be, Harley. But he’s out there all alone. Only when he is on screen does the movie come alive. Alas, his appearances are rare and his comedy is not nearly enough to save this.
The movie is of extremely low moral tone. Jake cheats on his wife, Agness (Lake Bell), with not an iota of guilt and Jane only pays lip service to how tawdry it is for her to be sleeping with another woman’s husband, apparently rationalizing that it’s OK since Jake left Jane for Agness a decade ago. But to justify Jane’s immorality, Meyers paints Agness as a heavy, using Agness’ desire to have another baby with Jake as a rationalization to hate her. Is that a valid justification to cheat? It apparently is in today’s Hollywood, where it’s de rigueur to mock stay at home mothers who want to bear babies.
In addition to minimizing (glorifying, actually) the immorality and extreme emotional damage of infidelity, Meyers’ film also exalts drug use (although I’m one that feels that use of marijuana should not be illegal).
I kept looking at my watch, wanting to leave, even though I knew it would be real easy to write my review. It was excruciating to sit there for 118 minutes watching the terrible script, inept directing and horrible acting. But I did it.