Nancy Meyers - that rare Hollywood voice for What Women Want, especially "women of a certain age," ("Something's Gotta Give") - makes Meryl Streep her muse for "It's Complicated," a tale of an ex-wife who becomes "the other woman" when her husband figures out what he gave up and starts cheating with her.
It's a talky "chick picture" revenge fantasy for the First Wives Club, in which the mother of his children, the ex-wife with mileage, is pursued by Jake, the man who left (Alec Baldwin), and by her architect (Steve Martin).
Jane (Streep) lost her husband 10 years before, but he's a rich lawyer, so their three kids were able to go to the best colleges. And her restaurant business and, we're assuming, alimony allowed her to buy a gorgeous Mission-style home in the hills outside Los Angeles. Even though she just packed her last child off to college and admits to being lonely, Jane is adding a pricey addition to the house, thus the architect.
But their son's graduation puts Jake and Jane in the same New York hotel and the same hotel bar, and one drink leads to another and next thing you know, she's got sex gossip for her coffee klatch (Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place, et al). She's having an affair!
Jake gives reasoned, rational arguments for why he should ditch the dominatrix he hooked up with (Lake Bell, given nothing to play, just skimpy outfits to wear) and re-connect with Jane.
"We both grew into the people we wanted each other to be," he purrs.
"Things look different lying down," she says, talking about gravity and her body parts.
Martin's mousy architect enters her love life but doesn't turn interesting until they share a joint on the way to a party, giving Martin his only funny moments in the movie and earning Meyers an R-rating for this otherwise tame little comedy.
Baldwin's comic playfulness upstages Streep in scene after scene. But Jane must carry the moral dilemma of the piece, meant to be the "sensible" one. John Krasinski earns the biggest laughs as the son-in-law who figures out the affair before any of Jane and Jake's kids do and is hilarious trying to hide what he knows.
The empowerment message is obvious, the strain of trying to be "hip" and edgy in the script shows.
But Meyers sets the table for funny people to deliver laughs. And since no one else is doing that for moviegoers too mature for "The Hangover," "It's Complicated" makes for a cute and most uncomplicated escape this holiday season.
Two and a half stars
STARRING: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski
RATED: R for some drug content and sexuality
RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 58 minutes