Movie Reviews—IT’S COMPLICATED, BROTHERS, THE LAST STATION

With all the holiday activities going on, I’m woefully behind on everything (haven’t seen Avatar—what?!) so the following reviews will be a little abbreviated. They’ll take less time for you to read so you can fulfill your obligations, too.

It’s Complicated

In writer/director Nancy Meyers’s ultimate female fantasy, Meryl Streep plays a woman who’s lusted after by two successful, attractive men: her lawyer ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and the sensitive architect (Steve Martin) who’s renovating her house, an already gorgeous spread in Santa Barbara she’s trying to make bigger and more awesome.

The movie is a very mature, if flawed, exploration of the emotional complexities of divorce, not making anyone out to be the bad guy or completely blameless. Streep is as radiant as ever (she doesn’t age!), Baldwin has some very funny scenes, including an unfortunate Skype incident, and Martin turns in a lovely, understated performance as someone who might be falling in love but is reluctant to move forward with the bitter taste of his own divorce still fresh in his mouth.

The most refreshing element for me was seeing how the family, though damaged by divorce, is so functional. They talk things out, they’re respectful towards each other and the kids don’t seem to prefer one parent over the other. Conflicts exist and obstacles abound; the affected parties just don’t turn their affairs into a Jerry Springer episode. I’m not sure what it says about the state of our times when I was surprised, but pleasantly so, to see family members not bitching each other out on screen. Nerd verdict: Complicated but fun.

Brothers

After Marine captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) goes missing and is believed dead in Afghanistan, his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) helps his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and daughters Isabelle and Maggie (Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, respectively) through the grieving process. Uncle Tommy gets a little too close and of course, this is exactly when Sam comes home. [Note: This isn’t a spoiler. We see him alive in Afghanistan even while the family mourns.]

Maguire does impressive work as the conflicted soldier who comes back haunted by things he was forced to do to survive, actions for which he can’t forgive himself. He’s a shadow of his former self, unrecognized by loved ones, feared by his children. He’s intense in a quiet way, which is much scarier than an over-the-top way.

Portman is more sensual and womanly than usual as a young wife and mother trying to navigate uncharted waters. Gyllenhaal is believable as Maguire’s brother but I didn’t buy for one minute that he’s some tough ex-con who just got out of the Big House. The real stars for me, though, are the two actresses who play Sam and Grace’s little girls. They have a natural, easy style that made me think they were simply being, not acting. It’s an easy concept to grasp, not necessarily to execute on camera. Drawing out amazing performances from young actresses (see: In America) is a specialty of director Jim Sheridan, who makes his movies intensely personal.

I also like his way of covering heavy subject matter with a light hand. He often cuts away from a scene before its natural end because he trusts we can fill in the rest. When two military reps arrive at Sam’s house to notify Grace of his so-called demise, we see Grace approaching the open door, the horrible realization washing over her face, and the scene ends without the actual notification. Sheridan doesn’t jerk tears; this isn’t a war movie. It’s about people trying to find a way to live again after a part of them dies. Nerd verdict: Relatable Brothers.

The Last Station

I’m going to keep this one brief because I fell asleep three times while watching it. The performances can’t be faulted, except for maybe Paul Giamatti’s scenery chomping as a devout Tolstoyan who wants Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) to will his estate to the movement, much to the chagrin of the author’s wife. The movie is one long melodramatic tug of war between Giamatti’s Vladimir and Helen Mirren’s Sofya and none of it was compelling. It’s more a history lesson than entertainment and even James McAvoy’s presence as Tolstoy’s secretary couldn’t save this for me. Nerd verdict: Bypass this Station

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    December 21, 2009 at 4:46 am

    I’ll pass on The Last Station, but the other two appeal to me. I can imagine Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire as brothers. That said, I might still be watching Sherlock Holmes over and over again by the time they are released here.

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    December 21, 2009 at 5:08 am

    I saw a preview for BROTHERS when I went to see BLIND SIDE. It looked great then and your review reinforces that. I’d only heard a few rumblings about IT’S COMPLICATED, but I LOVE Meryl Streep, so definitely have to check that one out! I’ve been so bad about getting out to the movies lately, though. I think it might have something to do with being able to buy the whole stinking movie for less than one ticket costs…who knows?

    Merry Christmas PCN!

  • Reply
    Reader#9
    December 21, 2009 at 5:14 am

    One of the things I miss about holidays past is the gathering of family members and convincing everyone to brave the snow and cold to check out a movie together. It was fun watching everyone make the effort and even harder to get everyone one involved to agree on the same film. But still, it was fun. For the last few years it has been next to impossible because the slate of movies available has been pitiful. Thanks for weeding out the good from the bad this year. Hope you continue to do so for a long time.

    Peace.

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    December 21, 2009 at 7:20 am

    Alone for Christmas this year, so going over ALL your reviews to use as a guide.

    Nothing like sitting spending the holidays in a dark theater with a bunch of strangers. YAY!!!

    Oops, bitterness!

  • Reply
    SCRIPTPIMP
    December 21, 2009 at 8:54 am

    I was wondering about IT’S COMPLICATED. It looked funny in the previews, but you can never tell anymore. I would check out BROTHERS, but I just can’t deal with anything that heavy this year. I need some laughs!! And it sounds like THE LAST STATION won’t be delivering any.

    BTW: I agree with Reader9, you have done well weeding out the good and the bad for us this year and I, too, hope you keep up the good work, PCN.

    HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!

  • Reply
    le0pard13
    December 21, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Thanks, PCN, for giving us a heads up on these. I’m going to try and get SheWMBO out for ITS’ COMPLICATED [though, let’s keep the idea of a fun divorce afterlife to a minimum, I don’t want to give her ideas ;-)]. Netflix for the other two, for me. Thanks, Elyse. I hope your travels and holidays go great!

  • Reply
    ARB
    December 21, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Was not interested in seeing The Last Station, but thanks for sealing my opinion on that one.

  • Reply
    Amber Spencer
    December 22, 2009 at 2:19 am

    I’m still going to watch this:D

  • Reply
    Julien
    December 25, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    Thanks PCN for the time you take to make us save some! It’s so nice to keep us informed about what you think is worth watching and what could be a waste of time (and money)! How would we do without you? 😉

    I love Meryl Streep and will maybe go and see this one, knowing that it’s entertaining and funny (like most Nancy Meyers’films) and hoping it’s as interesting and smart as you said it was!
    As for “Brothers”, it could be good and the casting is nice, but I’m pretty sure the Danish original movie is better (Susanne Bier’s “Brødre” in 2004)!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      December 27, 2009 at 9:32 pm

      Have you seen Brødre? I keep hearing the American version isn’t as good but haven’t seen the original.

      • Reply
        Julien
        December 28, 2009 at 10:05 pm

        No, I’ve not seen “Brødre”. To be honest on that point, I’m just repeating what most people around me say (which shows how solid my reasoning was!…).
        To keep digging my grave, I shall add that Susanne Bier’s “After the wedding” is also a great movie – according to the rumor.
        😉
        (At least I saw her “Things we lost in the fire” and found it quite nice. But I still believe her previous Danish movies are really good!)

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