Did You Hear About the Morgans? vs. It’s Complicated

“Did You Hear About the Morgans?” Cast:
Hugh Grant as Paul Morgan
Sarah Jessica Parker as Meryl Morgan
Sam Elliott as Clay Wheeler
Mary Steenburgen as Emma Wheele
Kim Shaw as Nurse Kelly
Wilford Brimley as Earl Granger
Gracie Lawrence as Lucy Granger
Natalia Klimas as Monique Rabelais
Vincenzo Amato as Girard Rabelais
Jesse Liebman as Adam Feller
Elisabeth Moss as Jackie Drake
Michael Kelly as Vincent
Seth Gilliam as U.S. Marshal Lasky
Kevin Brown as U.S. Marshal Henderson
Steven Boyer as U.S. Marshal Ferber
Sharon Wilkins as U.S. Marshal King

Directed by Marc Lawrence

“It’s Complicated” Cast:
Meryl Streep as Jane
Steve Martin as Adam
Alec Baldwin as Jake
John Krasinski as Harley
Lake Bell as Agness
Mary Kay Place as Joanne
Rita Wilson as Trisha
Alexandra Wentworth as Diane
Hunter Parrish as Luke
Zoe Kazan as Gabby
Caitlin Fitzgerald as Lauren
Emjay Anthony as Pedro
Nora Dunn as Sally
Bruce Altman as Ted
Robert Curtis Brown as Peter

Directed by Nancy Meyers

Analysis:
Any hopes the romantic comedy genre might ever be saved from Hollywood’s ham-fisted formula-driven conveyer belt of schlock might have to look elsewhere than these two holiday offerings that threaten to set a new bar for how many overused cliches can be forced into one movie. It’s a shame because for a while, there was hope for the genre from last year’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” to this year’s indie “(500) Days of Summer,” movies by filmmakers who were equally sick of seeing the exact same thing in every romantic movie coming from the studios and tried to offer something different. Now that the holidays are rolling around, all bets are off as the studios return to high concept romantic fare that can appeal to even the dumbest moviegoers with ten dollars burning a hole in their handbag.

One can understand why few would go into a movie with the unwieldy and unappealing title of “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” with very high expectations going by Sarah Jessica Parker’s past high concept romantic comedy fare – “Failure to Launch” anyone? No, I didn’t think there’d be any takers. In this case, she plays a high-powered New York realtor who has been separated from her British lawyer hubby, played by Hugh Grant. His numerous attempt to reconcile over dinner leads to them witnessing a murder and becoming targets for the killer. The Feds realize the best way to keep them safe is to take them out of New York City, so they’re sent off, together, to Ray, Wyoming where their relationship might stand a better chance.

Meyers’ latest is all about Meryl Streep as Jane, owner of a thriving bakery and catering business and the divorced mother of three kids, the youngest just leaving the nest for college leaving her in a rut about being alone. Ten years after divorce, her ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin) suddenly realizes that he’s still in love with her and he starts courting her again. One thing leads to another, they fall into bed when they’re in New York City for a graduation, and suddenly, Jane isn’t sure what to do anymore. At the same time, she has decided to renovate her house, and she immediately clicks with Adam, the architect who takes the job, played by Steve Martin.

So here you have two very different premises, both about troubled relationships and whether it’s worth trying to work out the problems or not. One would immediately assume Nancy Meyers’ offering would be handled in a far more tasteful and intelligent manner, so it’s surprising what complete and utter dreck “It’s Complicated” turns into over the course of its 2 plus hours. By comparison, “Morgans” is mostly harmless and mostly dumb fun that never tries to be anything more or less than you’d expect from the trailer: A few funny jokes, more than a few bad ones and an on-again off-again romance which one expects will work out.

“Complicated” tries so hard to be smarter than your average romantic comedy but fails to ever elevate itself above all the other dreck released in any given year. I’m sorry, but Meryl Streep was once an actress who could be taken seriously, but now we have to put up with her desire to have fun and act like a giggling schoolgirl as she jabbers with her friends about having an affair with her ex? This is yet another embarrassing decision by Streep that does little to help her credibility.

Sarah Jessica Parker doesn’t come across nearly as bad in “Morgans,” because she’s not really challenging herself or doing anything different from what we’ve seen her doing before. She does a good job playing up to the New York City hometown crowd without putting off those in the heartland who might be tickled by big city folk having to learn to shoot or chop wood and live like the locals. It’s always generally easy to enjoy Hugh Grant’s ever-present charm and personality, though this time he seems to be phoning it in for the paycheck. He easily has the funniest lines in the movie and he delivers them in such a matter-of-fact “here’s where I say something funny and women swoon ’cause of my British accent” way that you can’t imagine his heart is in it any more. On the other hand, the only real saving grace for “It’s Complicated” is Alec Baldwin, who plays the same charming smooth-talker as always, in this case doing exactly what’s needed to make for a convincing cad we can truly believe Jane might fall for despite herself. Then again, one can only imagine how much better both movies might have been if Baldwin and Grant switched movies and were forced out of their comfort zones.

What “Morgans” does have going for it is a strong supporting cast including Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen as the locals who take the Morgans in, and Wilford Brimley has a couple funny scenes as a stodgy local. If you’re going to go for an obvious “fish out of water” premise than you might as well surround the leads with actors who offer something to the mix. Every so often, the movie cuts back to New York where the Morgans’ personal assistants, one of them played by “Mad Men” star Elisabeth Moss, are desperately trying to find their employers. By comparison, “It’s Complicated” has Steve Martin playing a wimpy dishrag of a man with zero personality, one who you can’t possibly imagine Jane might be attracted to, while Jon Krasinski bring his usual dopey D-game to his scenes as Jane’s future son-in-law who learns about her affair.

Who knows what Nancy Meyers was trying to achieve with her latest? “Morgans” is always fully aware it need not involve big words or ideas to offer light entertaining fare even if there’s only so far you can take such a predictable premise. With that in mind, you would expect the comedy in “Morgans” to be broad – watch and laugh as Hugh Grant tries to chop wood or faces an angry grizzly bear, etc. When Meyers resorts to derivative low-brow humor in order to get laughs, you know things have gone horribly wrong. The worst example of this is a lengthy segment that involves Streep and Martin smoking a joint supplied by her ex before attending an engagement party together where they act all silly, followed by a trip to her bakery for a romantic moment fulfilling their munchies. Girlfriend, pot humor was barely funny in the ’70s, so why do you think modern audiences will be so easily amused thirty years later? Meyers even steals from herself with an Alec Baldwin nude scene that shocks everyone, hoping to get the same easy laughs as she did with “Something’s Gotta Give.” (There were rumors Universal was fighting to get Meyers’ film a PG-13 rating; we can’t imagine anyone under 17 necessarily wanting to see any of these actors cavorting on screen.)

Even as one starts to acclimate themselves to Meyers’ annoying characters, what kills the movie is when at roughly the hour and 50-minute mark, everything seems to be going wrong for Jane despite all her attempts at finding happiness. She’s finally told her ex-husband off after he’s ruined her chances at love with the architect, and her entire family is mad at her for lying to them and returning to their father. Ten minutes later, all has been resolved so cleanly and pat in order to have a happy ending and then the movie is over.

The Bottom Line:
Neither of these movies is great (or even good) but most will expect better from the likes of Meyers and Streep based on their past work. When a movie with such a high pedigree as “It’s Complicated” feels so much less inspired than the corny and predictable “Morgans,” you have to wonder whether there’s any hope whatsoever for the romantic comedy genre.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?: 5 out of 10

It’s Complicated: 4.5 out of 10

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