MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

It’s Really Not That Complicated

I’m a big fan of the romantic comedy genre, but I am no fan of It’s Complicated.

I think watching two people fall in love and laughing at the same time is one of the singular pleasures of going to the movies. The basic premise is almost always the same: Here are two people who should wind up together, here are the obstacles which will get in their way. The fun is watching how these people overcome those obstacles to eventually end up together; if there is some doubt along the way about whether they can really make it work, then so much the better.

It’s a formula, but it’s one that can be tweaked in a million different ways and which can seem fresh and new when certain elements are added or taken away – such as making the comedy more raunchy in a film like The 40 Year Old Virgin. So while it may be a formula, it’s one that I happen to enjoy when it’s done right.

Moreover, I do not begrudge the fact that certain films are made for certain audiences. Some romantic comedies are angled towards a specific demographic — namely, women over the age of thirty-five or forty. What I don’t understand is why those films have to be stupid and why that’s accepted. A film like It’s Complicated comes out and it’s got a great cast, but it’s an amateurish film that gets a free pass from almost everyone because either it’s “for you” or “not for you.” And I take issue with that.

If a movie this dumb was aimed solely at someone my age, with my gender and my financial
status, I wouldn’t give it a pass simply because it was made for someone like me. I might even give a film like that a harder time because I’m going to walk into it with an understanding of the reality of what it means to be someone my age; I’m going to be more difficult to please. Yet it seems that, because there aren’t a lot of films made for women over forty, they give films like It’s Complicated a free pass; because there aren’t a lot of other films made for them, they take what they can get. This is especially confounding since the film seems to be aimed at smart and sophisticated people.

One of the main issues of It’s Complicated is a problem I’ve had with many modern romantic comedies: that you have to be rich to have romantic struggles. From He’s Just Not That Into You to How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, everyone has to have a cool job, nice clothes and plenty of money to spend. This is not inherently a problem, but it seems as if the filmmakers don’t want to be hamstrung or they don’t want to tell the tale of a working class relationship and discover that people with less means can have fun and laugh too. (500) Days of Summer is an exception to this, but it still concludes with the main character getting his life together and – presumably – starting his dream career as an architect.

In It’s Complicated, everyone has money and plenty of it. Everyone is well-dressed, wine flows freely, there’s no second-guessing when the kid needs the credit card. We’re not just in “movie” territory here, we’re in the land of the very successful. Of course, great movies can be made about successful people, but it takes away an element of struggle, giving the main character one less obstacle in a life that is mostly devoid of them.

But Nancy Meyers, the writer/director of It’s Complicated, is always operating in this setting. They always say to write what you know and this is a milieu that Meyers clearly knows well. She is creating a fantasy for older women who not only have dreams of their ex-husbands pining for them, but also of having a beautiful new kitchen and bedroom. And I think there is a place for this, that this type of fantasy film can be empowering and wonderful. But that fantasy needs to be grounded in something more concrete; we need to believe these characters could actually exist in order to suspend disbelief and believe this fantasy. Nobody in the film seems like a real person; nobody is acting according to what the characters may or may not reasonably do. Rather, they act according to what Meyers would manipulate them to do and we are always aware that she is pulling the strings.

There are a lot of rookie mistakes in this film, like expositional dialogue which could have easily been tightened somewhere between the first draft and the editing room and overreactions that seem out of place. We have a scene, for instance, where Meryl Streep hunts down her therapist and demands an emergency session to talk about her ex-husband and their tryst. But the scene doesn’t do any work for the film, it simply tells us things that we’ve already gleaned: that Streep is concerned and harried. That she would be so fraught with anxiety about this is a tad ridiculous, but that’s a writing issue.

A talented actress like Streep is able to convey the confusion and anxiety of the character without the melodrama. Meyers should have just cut the therapist scene, which winds up making Streep just look over the top. This is an example of something Meyers does a lot: she doesn’t put her actors in a position to look their best or play to their strengths. This is especially true of Steve Martin, who is given almost nothing to do; he’s playing a boring and de-balled version of Ray Porter from Shopgirl.

The biggest issue with the film is that the kids in the film – the offspring of Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep’s marriage – are incredibly weird. When they find out that their parents are having an affair, these three grown kids – all over the age of 21 – cry hysterically like babies and cuddle together in a bed. I’m sorry, I’m really close with my family, but I doubt my brother and I would be this upset if our parents were having an affair. You know why? Because we’re adults. And Meyers is writing the kids as if they were emotionally about eleven.

But all of this would almost be forgivable if it weren’t for the fact that nothing happens. Oh sure, she has an affair with her ex-husband and everyone around her freaks out about it and she has an emotional breakdown because of it. I mean, Jesus, relax, it’s not that big of a deal. Sure, in the reality of someone’s life, this would be a monumental turning point for you, but not in the reality that has been established in the film. And other than that, she meets Martin’s character and they have a courtship. But there’s zero sense of forward momentum in this film. It seems stagnant, like we’re just supposed to enjoy the characters – who aren’t particularly well-drawn – and their posh surroundings. It’s all so…boring.

My mother is about the same age as Meryl Streep’s character in the film and they have a lot in common in terms of where they are in their life – except my mother is married to my awesome stepfather. And I know when my mom sees this movie, she’ll enjoy the hell out of it. Inevitably, she’ll call me up and say, “It was stupid, but I liked it.” And my point is that, if it wasn’t stupid, she would still like it and in fact, would probably love it.

Just because you can get somebody into the theater based on a certain premise, that doesn’t mean you can just rest and give them pap; it would be nice if filmmakers took their responsibility to this audience a bit more seriously and gave them something that honors the demographic and the genre. My mom has excellent taste in film for the most part, but she has her guilty pleasures like we all do. The thing is, a film like this doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure. It could be smart and real and funny, but instead it’s manufactured to simply be digested and excreted and forgotten.


My buddy Josh Shelov is a writer/director. He co-wrote Green Street Hooligans and is the man behind the hilarious web series Mayne Street. He has a movie coming out this year called The Best and the Brightest starring Neil Patrick Harris and Amy Sedaris; if it’s hilarious as the script is, then this will be one of the funniest movies you’ll see this year.

In response to my best of the decade column, he sent me this fascinating e-mail that I’d like to share with you:


First of all, excellent top 10, extremely well-chosen and as always, well-written.

But I think the real story of the aughts is that the best of the decade in American film – for the first time ever – was on the small screen.

This wasn’t merely a great decade in tv, this was the moment when the cultural impact and, more importantly, cinematic quality of the best television series’ blew their theatrical counterparts out of the water.

Do the films in your top 10 compare to the best films of the 1970’s? Unfair, you may say: the 1970s was the golden age of American film, the best decade’s-worth of films the medium has ever produced. And indeed it was, but I think that the TV of the aughts genuinely stacks up quality-wise with the theatrical films of the 1970’s. There aren’t too many works of art that can be reasonably compared with THE GODFATHER, but THE WIRE is one of them.

In fact, as a geeky exercise that you, me, and maybe eleven other people might enjoy, I stacked up the iconic filmmakers of the 1970’s with the iconic TV series’ of the aughts, and I was pretty amazed at the commonalities. There are huge similarities in terms of voice, tone, scope, and most importantly, power.


In addition to being the greatest works of art in the history of their media (even Kubrick ruefully admitted that THE GODFATHER was the best movie he’d ever seen), THE GODFATHER and THE WIRE have a hell of a lot in common. Both use a sprawling family structure to expose the ruthless heart of the American Dream.

Both stories are epic, tragic, operatic, and dramatically perfect. The scripts are among the best that American drama has produced, the casting could not be improved upon, and the performances are heartbreakingly great.

The comparison even extends to the fifth season of THE WIRE and Part III of THE GODFATHER, both wet-fuse misfires that fortunately don’t in any way diminish the greatness of what came before.


The mob is the big connect here, of course, but in a way it’s almost besides the point. The thing that’s most Scorsesean about THE SOPRANOS is its juxtaposition of the violent and the mundane: the way murderous violence underlies backyard barbecues, and bubbles up during family dinners.

The other big Scorsesean aspect of THE SOPRANOS was its stubborn, wriggling refusal to settle into a consistent tone, or even genre. The series kept shifting, episode by episode, season by season, turning surreal with one sequence, comic the next. This self-contradicting voice is awfully similar to mid-70’s peak Scorsese, whose genre-shifting run of MEAN STREETS, ALICE, TAXI DRIVER,THE LAST WALTZ,NEW YORK NEW YORK, and RAGING BULL have rarely been equaled, if ever.


Ethereal, naturalistic, spiritual, and deeply humane, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is one of the few works in the American film canon that feels like a genuine heir to Malick’s singular tone. Chekhov’s spirit is in here: Whitman’s, too. Talk to anyone who’s watched the entire run of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, and ask any of them if they’ve seen better filmmaking in theaters this decade. My friends who are FNL fans say they’ve never cared more about fictional characters, in any medium.


BATTLESTAR isn’t the Star Wars George: it’s the original George, the THX George, the pissed-off, surly gearhead who wanted to be the smartest filmmaker on the planet much more than the most popular. (It was only when the former didn’t work out that he settled for the latter.)

BATTLESTAR is the dark, grownup, deep-space ponder Lucas would have made in 1971 if his craft had been the equal of his brains.


I mean, come on: what is LOST besides every movie Spielberg ever made chopped up in a blender and served in a what-the-fuck puree? They must have a sign up in the LOST writers’ room: “Awe by any means necessary.”


Moody, surrealist, and most of all, sad as fucking hell, SIX FEET UNDER feels like Ashby with a more ostentatious gaffer, which is actually not such a terrible thing. The best of Ashby was very, very good, and the ending of SIX FEET UNDER was worthy of his name.


OK, a curveball. The easy choice for Woody was The West Wing, with all its witty patter and grad-student-y references. But DEADWOOD is the finer meal, one worthy of the best of the Woodman, who at his best got a lot closer to the great Russian storytellers he idolizes than he’d ever give himself credit for. The West Wing, while good, was too Lite for Woody. Somebody once said that when Michael Bay watches ALIENS he must feel like Salieri listening to Mozart. Sorkin must feel the same way when he watches MANHATTAN.

But I digress. Re: Woody and Milch: how many filmmakers in American history have really “gotten” dialogue the way they do? The list is mighty short.


Kinetic, vicious, and, let’s face it, let’s face it, kind of morally reprehensible, 24 has Friedkin’s sensationalist soul all over it. Cut! Crash! Bang! Crunch! PUT THE FUCKING GUN DOWN ASSHOLE! WHO THE HELL DO YOU WORK FOR! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!


Who plumbed the souls of tortured cops more deeply than Sidney Lumet?

* * *

It kind of works, right? Anyway, my overall point is this. These series listed above – I mean Christ, look at them all – made a crater in people’s chests this past decade. People liked a lot of movies, sure, but they mourn the end of THE WIRE like they do a lost relative. That’s how audiences felt about theatrical films in the 1970’s, when the art form was at the center of the culture.

The films on your list, though finely made, are exquisitely-prepared side dishes in the filmmaking meal that was the aughts.”

– Josh Shelov

I think this is a hell of a fun game. I’m trying to find the perfect ’70s filmmakers to line up with Veronica Mars (Robert Altman circa The Long Goodbye perhaps?) or Gilmore Girls (I think Woody Allen might be a possibility for the rapid-fire dialogue) or Mad Men (Kubrick?).

Tell me your ideas and I’ll post them next week.

Noah Forrest
January 11, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon