The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Why can't Nancy Meyers get any respect?

It's hardly a surprise that the critics, who tend to view Nancy Meyers like a lamb waiting to be slaughtered, will have their knives out for "It's Complicated" when it opens Christmas Day.

Meyers At Rotten Tomatoes, where some of the early reviews are already being posted, the film has a paltry 33 fresh rating, with Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum airily dismissing Meyers' new film as "middle-aged porn ... the stuff of Santa Barbara book-group literature." (In an interview the other day, Manohla Dargis, who's something of a crusader for female filmmaker empowerment, went out of her way to dis Meyers, saying her films have "barely any aesthetic value at all.")

It would be easy to advise Meyers to ignore her detractors and laugh all the way to the bank since she is the town's top woman director, in terms of compensation (she gets paid upwards of $12 million a picture, plus a piece of the gross) and overall box-office appeal. But it's still gotta hurt. But even if you aren't enamored by her subject matter, consider what would happen if Meyers wasn't around. Who would be left in Hollywood making films that actually chronicle the love lives of middle-age women and their men, a once immensely popular genre that has been abandoned by studios who appear to be obsessed with the bonding rituals of sulky teenagers (see "Twilight") and young Jewish comics (see the Judd Apatow oeuvre)?

In fact, it's sort of surprising to see that the same critics who wax nostalgic about the wondrous craft of old Hollywood find it so difficult to offer even a tiny kernel of appreciation for Meyers, even though she is pretty much working the same turf as Garson Kanin, Mitchell Leisen, Joseph Mankiewicz, Leo McCarey and Gregory La Cava, who all did comedies just as fluffy, fun and escapist as anything Meyers has ever had a hand in.

If there were ever a symbolic example of how little regard Meyers gets, it comes at the beginning of a very readable (if very long) profile of the filmmaker by Daphne Merkin in this Sunday's New York Times magazine. In it, we learn all sorts of fascinating nuggets, including examples of her micro-attention to detail ("She obsessed for two days over my make-up in a scene," says "It's Complicated" co-star Steve Martin); her pre-teen crushes (she sent a fan letter to Frank Sinatra, proposing marriage when she was 12); her fondness for quoting Truffaut ("Making movies is an accumulation of details"); her germophobia ("How can you see a hand sanitizer and not use it") and her fondness for smoothing away all the rough edges (while editing "It's Complicated," she exclaimed one day, "Every plant that is spiky is removed from this movie").

But even after all the money her movies have made, the story reveals that Meyers still can't get a prized corner booth at a posh Brentwood eatery. When Merkin was interviewing Meyers one night at Vincenti, a much-in-demand Italian restaurant, the owner actually came over and asked Meyers to switch tables, explaining that one of the joint's investors (former O.J. lawyer Howard Weitzman) had requested the table at 8 p.m. Meyers happily acquiesced, though Merkin rightfully wondered if the same thing would have happened, say, to Jerry Bruckheimer, who was, as it happened, also having dinner at the same restaurant.

Meyers managed to get the last word -- or quip -- ruefully observing, "When you describe how influential I am in Hollywood, say we were thrown out of our booth." But when it comes to sexual politics in Hollywood, there is no more appropriate expression: It's complicated.

Photo: Nancy Meyers. Credit: Zade Rosenthal / Sony Pictures Entertainment


Manohla Dargis on the Hollywood boys club: "One guy after another in a baseball cap"

Comments () | Archives (7)

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I've enjoyed some of her pictures, but Meyers is a modest talent compared to the people who made ALL ABOUT EVE, THE AWFUL TRUTH, MY MAN GODFREY. When she writes something like BORN YESTERDAY, we'll talk. [Leisen, a former designer, does have a lot in common with Meyers, but he made a lot of wonderful movies.]

I see where you mean to go with the line of thinking, but this sort of defense isn't going to help Meyers. [It didn't help Dan Quayle, did it?]

Maybe Meyers deserves some respect, but she isn't going to get it by being compared to the likes of Joseph Mankiewicz - surely the most laughable part of your article.

In reality, she should get all the respect that similarly successful male hack directors get, like Donald Petrie or Peyton Reed. But Mankiewicz? Mitchell Leisen? Garson Kanin? Really? Unless Meyers has an "All About Eve" up her sleeve - and I seriously doubt that - it ain't gonna happen.

Well..."middle-age porn" be it!

Meyers has my respect...and my support(money)
She's responsible for one of my favorite movies "Something's
Gotta Give" with Jack and Diane...

Thanks for the read Patrick...enjoy your point of view.

I was prepared to derive some pleasure from this movie. Truly. But my personal reaction was incredibly negative. I wasn't just bored with the old fashioned comedy set ups. I have found myself going back to the memory of this movie as some kind of touchstone to all the truly awful Hollywood movies I stayed away from completely during my fervent years. If people under the age of 35 should stumble into the theatre and see this... there may be a series of beatings and killings of baby boomers. This supposed romantic comedy is a black hole of upper middle class presumptuousness, self-satisfied corn and dishonest story-telling. Private Benjamin is Tolstoy compared to this. Invoking classic romantic comedy in defense of this is idiotic flackery. It's NOT complicated. It's worse than bad.

Great post ... and how sad it is that some critics throw bouquets at today's lame rom-coms but raker Meyers over the coal for her work. What gives? Maybe it's older film critics who see too much of themselves in the heroes and heroines in her work ... it's too close for comfort.

When I see the absolute crap being released these days, the films in which women over 40 are either invisible or the butt of jokes, the films in which bodily functions are involved in every punch line, I can't help but be frustrated to see the huge amount of nasty commentary about Nancy Meyers and "It's Complicated." Her crime? A movie in which women over 40 (actually, over 50 and darn close to 60) are treated as people worthy of two hours spent in a theater. A funny movie. (Everybody in the theater I attended was laughing a lot.)

It's as if the self-appointed critics leaving comments (and the legitimately employed critics writing reviews) are livid that someone has the nerve to suggest a woman of a certain age might be interesting, or funny, or worthy of attention. They seem to prefer women who suffer, women who are neurotic, women who hate other women. All About Eve? Give me a break.

It's misogynistic, period. Consciously or subconsciously, these people want older women to just go away. Older women deserve a little escapism? Don't make the critics laugh. Older women deserve absolutely nothing on the screens of America, they're telling us. No screen time at all, unless they're the batty grandmas like Betty White, kooky and embarrassing.

And since Nancy Meyers movies are successful, and there's a good chance she may make more movies about women over 40, they spew venom.

I like good literature. I don't read trash. I like fine movies. I don't mind social commentary. But once in a while, a happy ending feels good. And what, "It's Complicated" would have been a better film if Meryl Streep's home was ugly?

Nancy Meyers is not making documentaries. She's not trying to change the world. She's looking at human relationships, from the perspective of women my age. Unless the critics scream about the preponderance of films that indulge the fantasies of younger men, they should not be so quick to be derisive when finally, FINALLY, a filmmaker cares about the perspective of a large number of people who've been completely ignored by Hollywood.

I say, media outlets, hire critics who aren't trying so hard to pretend to be superior to older women, simply by virtue of the date of birth on their drivers licenses. Hire critics who believe everybody's interests are valid, and films in which women show their age and make their own choices are just as needed and wanted as films in which every female is blond, surgically enhanced, and necessary only for the sexual purposes of men.

We're sick TO DEATH of films in which babes hook up with men older than their fathers. We're weary of movie seasons in which our stories are untold unless one of only two women directors allowed to work regularly in the field (Nora Ephron or Nancy Meyers) has a film coming out. Most of all, we're disgusted by critics who show their personal insecurities by needing to blast the work of other women, about women, for a female audience.

Ask yourself: This movie makes older women happy. Why does that make me so angry? I'd be interested in honest answers.

Nancy Meyers is at best, a mediocre sitcom writer with larger ambitions.

She is the cinematic equivalent of cheap shoes and frosted
nail polish.

Simply put, she appeals to women who read Harlequin Romance Novels
and think Oprah is a genius.

Getting a piece of the action does not an auteur make.


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