A few weeks ago, I finally got around to seeing It’s Complicated, the Nancy Myers’ comedy with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin. I really enjoyed it, although seeing Alec Baldwin naked wasn’t exactly something I’d planned on. But afterward, I went back through some of the reviews the movie got when it first came out, which were pretty lukewarm. The biggest point of contention? Everybody was too rich.
To clarify: Meryl Streep’s character lives in a beautiful house on a hillside in Santa Barbara. She’s a chef who owns a gorgeous restaurant and bakery, and she hires an architect (Steve Martin) to design an addition for the house that will include a new, enlarged kitchen (her youngest has just graduated from college and she needs a distraction). And that’s where the carping began. Her current kitchen looks just fine, the critics harrumphed. She doesn't need a new one, and besides, who wants to see movies about people who live in beautiful houses and wear beautiful clothes and spend their money on elaborate extensions? It’s just conspicuous consumption. Etc, etc., etc.
Okay, the answer to the “who wants to see” question is “Me.” I live in a nice but modest house in the Denver foothills, but I love to see people in movies who live in the kind of places I will never, ever be able to afford. That doesn’t mean I sit grumpily in my shabby recliner, shriveled with envy either. It does mean I get a kick out of lavish sets where I can live vicariously for a couple of hours.
I’m not sure why some critics suddenly turn into Savonarola when it comes to romantic comedies. Why is it evil for characters to wear pretty clothes and live in beautiful homes? Would it be better or funnier or more romantic if the characters wore stuff they’d purchased at Goodwill and lived in one-room apartments?
Yes, we’re in a bad recession and a lot of people are suffering. I get that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a couple of hours at a level of society we can’t get to ourselves, at least for the foreseeable future. During the Great Depression, Hollywood turned out a whole series of comedies about madcap heiresses who lived in mansions with butlers and maids—Bringing Up Baby, My Man Godfrey, The Philadelphia Story, and so on. People got a kick out of those movies because they were so far removed from what was happening to them on a daily basis. They were Escape in the truest sense.
So please don’t tell me Meryl Streep should have lived in a hovel in some depressed city. Please don’t cavil because Alec Baldwin drives a Porsche. Believe me, it doesn’t matter. Seeing them didn’t make me feel bad about myself or make me want to live beyond my means. It made me laugh for a couple of hours before I had to go wash the sink.
So what about you? Do you like your romantic comedies lavish? Or do you prefer the ones where the characters live in two-room apartments and ride the bus?