In adolescence and a few years beyond that, many of us have rolled our eyes and pretended to vomit when on-screen couples over the age of 35 started kissing. Yucky, indecent, pathetic! — we didn’t know where to look. But having gotten there myself and been informed that 40 is the new 20 and 50 is the new 30 and 60 is also the new 30 . . . well gosh.

It’s great news but nevertheless a teensy bit disconcerting to see how an increasing number of romantic films these days are performed by and geared toward what we used to know as the midlife demographic. Forty-something Sandra Bullock in “The Proposal” fakes a marriage with a guy of 25. Alan Arkin in “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” is an 80-year-old retiree married to a woman 30 years his junior and has an affair with her much younger friend. Just contemplating such plots would have given my grandparents (who both held that decrepitude set in at 42 and remained unto death) a couple of strokes each.

The latest antiage story charged up on rocket fuel is “It’s Complicated,” in which 50-something divorcees romp in and out of hotel beds and smooch in elevators and get high on reefers. It wasn’t so long ago that we saw this same age group worried about encroaching old age or plagued by the needs of irate offspring and/or senile parents. But in the past five years, movie characters of certain ages have decidedly become more prosperous, less stressed and awesomely libidinous. The once painful prospect of “growing older” is tinged with rosy-pink possibilities. Which is probably a cause for celebration. Or is it?

It's Complicated
Director Nancy Meyers
Run Time 120 minutes
Language English
Opens Opens Feb. 19, 2010

“It’s Complicated” is written/directed by Nancy Meyers, who made a similar-spirited film called “Something’s Gotta Give” seven years back. In it, aging playboy Jack Nicholson dates a young hottie, but he can’t handle it, and he reluctantly (and ungraciously) decides to go for her mom (Diane Keaton). He freaks out when she comes out of the shower naked and makes cutting remarks about women and aging. (Fortunately, he gets what’s coming to him.)

“It’s Complicated” is markedly less realistic and piles on the optimism like a wrinkle-cream advertisement. Meryl Streep stars as Jane, a successful Santa Barbara baker/restaurant owner, in the market for a new relationship. Alec Baldwin is her ex-husband, Jake, remarried now to the obligatory sultry young wife, Agness (Lake Bell), whose only distinctive feature seems to be that her name rhymes with hiss, almost. Jane and Jake bump into each other in a hotel bar on the occasion of their son’s college graduation fete and in a few frames they’re making out — and then much more.

Throughout it all, Jake inserts little sighs of regret that he never realized how good he had it with Jane before he “allowed” their marriage to break up (read: plain philandering) and lamenting the fact that Agness has him guzzling high-fat foods and hanging around at the fertility clinic. “See what happens when you’re not around to take care of me?” is just one of a series of his bile-inducing lines, to which Jane just smiles . . . and smiles.

She doesn’t want to get back together with Jake; she just wants to relish this newfound state of being desirable and naughty. And, in the meantime, Jane’s architect, Adam (Steve Martin), who’s working on additions to her humongous house, also comes sniffing around for love and companionship and won’t take no for an answer. Wow, that’s complicated.

What saves the film from total immersion in the muck of midlife indignities is probably Steve Martin. He looks atypically uncomfortable and steeped in mild despair, like a high school teacher forced to supervise the prom. His trademark buoyancy surfaces briefly when Adam gets high on some pot shared with Jane, while the rest of the time he just seems to be pining to get the hell out. Gerard Depardieu once said that the upside of an actor growing old was being exempt from love scenes. He has a point. Antiaging is a lovely concept but past a certain point it could, quite simply, get embarrassing.

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