The Big Picture

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

December 17, 2009 |  1:48 pm

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"