"Why can't we see Meryl Streep naked the way we see Alec Baldwin naked?"
"I guess you can blame me for that," answers Nancy Meyers. "I never saw it that way in my mind."
Meyers and I are at the Ritz Carlton, where she has touched down on a press junket, and we're discussing her latest film, It's Complicated. Meyers -- attractive, blonde, quick-witted -- goes where Hollywood fears to tread: she makes rom-coms about later-life love. Following on the heels of Something's Gotta Give, It's Complicated is about a couple -- Jane (Streep) and Jake Adler (Baldwin) -- who after ten years of divorce launch an affair following their son's graduation. Jake is keener on making the reunion stick than Jane, who's attuned to, well, complications. Among them are Jake's second wife, a pierced babe who wants a baby; Jake's less than steady nature; and a super-eligible architect (Steve Martin), who's also competing for Jane's attentions. The stuff of countless romantic triangles, yes. But wait -- the main players here are, gasp, pushing 60.
The French, who appear age blind, have long made movies about love among this demographic. But in Hollywood middle-aged sex remains taboo. The suits apparently haven't progressed beyond The Graduate, where ripe Mrs. Robinson gets conflated with dirty and yucky. Of course, in American films old dudes get to bed nymphets. Consider Woody Allen's Whatever Works, where Larry David (in the Woody role), skinny shanks protruding from a ratty bathrobe, woos Evan Rachel Wood -- a mere 40 year age difference. But women Jane Adler's age? They get sidelined to roles as daffy aunts.
Now, I've picked up grousing that Complicated is set in a golden California bubble of privilege, dream homes, decorator porn, zero money cares. But here's the paradox: that world may be a fantasy except for a fortunate few. At the same time Meyers has fashioned characters with real-life libidos who are completely recognizable.
Alec Baldwin's Jake is a certain kind of charmer/operator whose boyish ebullience and (unreliable) enthusiasms are catnip to women. We all know -- and find impossible to resist -- this guy. As for Streep's Janey -- well, let's just say that she has a few more options than many women her age, chief among them her wealth, which gives her bargaining chips. But this film is not only funny as hell (see the scene where Baldwin cavorts naked on Skype) -- it deals with sexual politics and the new resources women bring to the game. At the same time, Janey's ability to simultaneously respond to Jake's charm and deeply mistrust it will strike a loud chord of recognition among women viewers.
With Complicated Meyers joins this year's group of sterling women filmmakers that includes Kathryn Bigelow, already collecting awards for Hurt Locker, Agnes Varda with The Beaches of Agnes, and Jane Campion with Bright Star. Below some excerpts from my chat with Meyers.
EA: I find this film daring and brave because Jane and Jake are both roughly 58. What draws you to this age group?
NM: I am in this age group. So I want to write about what I know.
Is it hard to get money in Hollywood for a movie about this age demographic?
I think because "Something's Gotta Give" did well internationally as well as domestically they felt safe with me with this material. But I don't think they're running out and having development meetings and saying, Bring me more movies about women 60 years old! Though I think they should. I think there's an audience for it. We'll see if this movie does well. I hope they'll do more movies where the lead character can be close to 58 or 60 or 62. And have a life in the movie and not just play the whacky mother.
What about the conventional wisdom that it's teen boys and girls who drive the box office.
Young people go right away to the film. Women don't tend to go opening weekend. They wait to hear about it, go the next week, two weeks later. There's something to be said for a movie that lasts, where the audience starts to build. "Julie and Julia" is a perfect example of that.
This movie is kind of ground-breaking because showing sex among the middle-aged is a real taboo here, even to the limited extent that you show it.
Well, how am I going to make a movie about people having an affair without going there?
But will audiences go there?
Well, how did the scenes play when you saw it?
I was struck that you show Jake's body -- and Baldwin is hairy, with this big gut. Not so enticing on the face of it, but being Alec Baldwin --
He's adorable. I find him very attractive and he's built well. When he slaps his stomach it's like hitting a brick, it's so solid.
But why can't we see her naked the way we see him, when he's cavorting in that Skype scene?
I thought the joke of him being naked was about him. I never saw Janey acting that way, she wouldn't do that. Though she's nervous about being naked before him. When they broke up she was in her 40's, now she's in her late 50's. And she says, things change. And it's a story point when she undresses in front of him.
What I'm getting at is why can't we see older women's bodies? In Something's Gotta Give, we only see Diane Keaton a millisecond.
You saw her naked longer than you've ever seen any woman that age naked in any movie in the history of movies.
In American ones.
I would say I shouldn't be the movie to take the hit on that one since I'm making the movie about middle aged women being sexual. I mean, I think I'm doing more than 90% of it. You can hit me on that if you want, but it's a little unfair.
How did you get such great ensemble work from Baldwin and Streep?
They deserve most of the credit. They let each other be; step back for each other, at the same time they go at each other. And in fact, they liked each other a lot. That comes through. You can see when actors are working together and they're getting off on how the other person is doing the scene and they rev it up.
What is Janey's appeal for Jake at this point in his life?
Her appeal for him is she's the greatest woman he's ever known. The biggest mistake in his life was to have left her, the mother of his children. And she's someone he's still attracted to. The woman he'd like to take care of him as he gets older -- all those things. In the passing moment when it wasn't working, he didn't fix whatever problems they had. And now the thought of her again makes him feel stable.
Isn't the more truthful pattern, though, that men his age gravitate toward much younger women? And he's an exception?
But that's what the movie is about, isn't it? About a couple who have an affair who've been together for 20 years. I'm not telling the story of Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give, where a man has spent his life interested only in younger women. I've made that movie. This is about a woman who's a solid person who's been the most important person in his life. And he's not going out with a 58-year-old woman he met on Match.com. He's after this particular woman.
I went to a shrink who had a very long practice in Beverly Hills and said, tell me if I'm headed in the right direction. Because I don't want to write something that people would find to be untrue, that a man would go back with his ex wife.
He told me he was at the gym the other day and saw a man banging his head on the locker. The guy, in his 60's, said I'm remarried to a young woman, I left my wife, it's the biggest mistake I ever made. I can't tell you the number of men who've come in here the last 40 years and regretted the choice they made. Those marriages don't generally last. They may repeat it, and have a second younger wife.
So [my film] is not a global story about a man who finds he's suddenly more attracted to a woman of 58 than 32. It's about a marriage, a divorce, and whether we did the right thing. What is there still between us. Can we get the genii back in the bottle?
To what extent did you draw on your own life?
I drew on it to the extent that I have an ex-husband. He's married to someone a lot younger. I remain single. We tend to see each other from time to time at family events. There's something there that I haven't seen a lot of people write about -- the awkwardness of being across the room from your replacement. You guys are kibbutzing and getting along and the [new wife] joins you and it's suddenly awkward. You leave alone, they stay together. From there I make it up. I have not been in this position, do not want to be. But, you know, it's comedic and I wanted to write about it.
Why does Jane allow the romance with Jake to continue?
She's trying to see if it could work, you know? She hasn't recoupled. He very much wants her back. He admits to her, I don't know how to live without you. And she wonders, does she really know how to live without him? Would it not be something worth investigating?
I don't think she ever goes into it without enormous fears though. She seems to constantly be saying things to him, we should never do this again, this is absolutely wrong. But he keeps talking her into it: you don't have to be alone. You can build your perfect house, but what about with someone holding you in the middle of the night, a person who's known and loved you since you were 23 years old. Then another big speech: what if people got back together after 10 years and they realize at that point that all the problems are solved? "Give it a chance, Janey."
I found the Steve Martin character rather unappealing -- not much competition for Jake. What's his attraction for Jane?
He's kind, he's smart, he's got a cool job. Gotta great sense of humor.
But he's not sexy.
You wanna know something? Jane was with a really sexy guy for a long time and it didn't work out. So maybe after you're with a really sexy guy for 20 years, maybe the right thing for you is a little less sex appeal and a little more humanity and a little more kindness and someone who really likes you and is going to treat you better. I actually think you're seeing it right. I find [him] appealing though.
Oh, I don't know, aren't we all still romantics?
There I disagree with you.