Friday, April 22, 2011

Who Needs Real?


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?

9 comments:

Missy Maxim said...

I loved this movie. We bought the DVD when it came out, too. It was gorgeous as well as funny. And why shouldn't people at the higher end of middle age actually have achieved some success? Geesh. Besides being hilarious, this movie makes me hungry every time, lol.

I do live in CA, so the scenery wasn't foreign to me - just nicer than I have. Both of us wanted MS's character's house, and my guy was dirt poor growing up.

I want believable and likable characters - don't really care where they live or what they do in an RC as long as it's a good story. Though seeing the nicer end of life is nice to dream on for a while...

Meg Benjamin said...

Ditto on the hungry part! I covet that restaurant.

Maria said...

I loved that movie! And you are so right...during the Great Depression people turned to movies to forget their problems for a few hours and the movies that were created are fantastic comedy classics! Reviewers for movies are a strange lot - I live in a modest home and love to see what the rich and overindulged can do with their money - it gives me ideas of things that can be done on a more modest scale...plus their money doesn't make their problems go away...it just makes them a little more different perhaps but that's all...they still have family issues and marriage problems ...just like everyone else.
Great post!

Nine Naughty Novelists said...

I haven't seen that movie, but I'm with you Meg, I love living in a world (for a little while!) that I'd normally never get to see. Yes, it's an escape. I also love movies set in exotic locations.

PG Forte said...

I agree that reality in fiction is a highly overrated commodity. One of my favorite books as a child was A Little Princess. I loved reading about poor Sara in her garret with her rats and impromptu picnics. The book made the experience seem magical even though I was quite clear--even then--that reality was very different and I never, ever wanted to be that cold or hungry in real life.

That being said, I have to point out that, in real life, Alec Baldwin probably DOES drive a Porsche and I'm sure Meryl Streep lives in a VERY nice house. And more power to them both. I put the reviewer's remarks down to simple jealousy.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Damn! That Nine Naughty Novelists comment is from me. Sorry, didn't log out.

daydrmzzz said...

I really enjoyed this movie as well Meg and agree that a movie is a way to loose yourself in another world, time, place, or adventure :) we get enough of reality. I love 2 hrs out of it.

Sonya said...

I have seen this movie numerous times and I absolutely loved it! I'm 40 years old and still have a dream of having my own sandwich/bakery shop.I drooled over her kitchen,her house and garden.I didn't feel bad at all watching it,if anything it was inspiring to me that maybe "one day" I can have this too.One of my favorite "over 40" movies! LOL

Meg Benjamin said...

Oh yeah, I'd love to have that restaurant. Or the house. Or the garden. Or any of it, really!