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Home Movies: ‘It’s Complicated’ Arrives on DVD, Blanchett’s ‘Elizabeth’ Rises Again

“If you want to have your situation fixed, you have to start dating,” a girlfriend tells Jane, setting the mechanics of her story in motion. “Anyone!”

Jane is a frustrated divorcée, played by the incomparable Meryl Streep, who warily watches her cheating ex Jake (Alec Baldwin) make off with his much-younger mistress turned wife (Lake Bell) as if going through some stereotypical midlife crisis. There’s still a spark between them – a family reunion leads them back to the bedroom after 10 years of separation – but is Jake still the one?

It’s a long shot. Jake is mired in a crumbling marriage but unwilling to break free; he wants an affair, though he seems to want many things that are convenient at the time. Jane, after years of involuntary celibacy, is picking up signals from her sensitive contractor (Steve Martin), who’s still smarting from his own divorce. What to do?

How It’s Complicated unfolds isn’t hard to guess, but it’s painless to watch. Among her many talents, Streep is a gifted comedienne, and the chemistry she shares with Baldwin, whose timing and delivery is formidable, invigorates a story that rarely takes chances. Here, Martin plays the straight man, and after his recent forays into Pink Panther buffoonery, it’s a welcome change.

Nancy Meyers, who wrote and directed, rarely gets in the way of her stars – she gives them some good lines and relies on their natural chemistry to do the rest. Her strategy is sound. It’s Complicated is a slight but competent romantic comedy intended for people of a certain age, but Streep and Baldwin (who has rarely played a more desperate Romeo, and earns some big laughs with him) make it appetizing enough for anyone.

That doesn't excuse the relative lack of EXTRAS, though. Just released on Blu-ray and DVD (in time for Mother's Day, as an accompanying press release helpfully points out), bonus features include a behind-the-scenes featurette and commentary from Meyers, executive producer Suzanne McNeill Farwell, director of photography John Toll and editor Joseph Hutshing.

***

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

While Elizabeth (1998) earned Cate Blanchett a well-deserved Oscar nomination and a reputation for fierce, fearless performances, Shekhar Kapur’s middling sequel climbs aboard the taut shoulders of its now-established star and hangs on for dear life. It’s a bumpy ride, not because Blanchett shies from the challenge – once again, her depiction of the Virgin Queen is spirited and forceful – but because The Golden Age, just released on Blu-ray, is more interested in flash and bombast than in a serious retelling of history.

Not that Elizabeth was much concerned with the more mundane details of her majesty’s ascent to power. In that movie, Michael Hirst’s screenplay offered an elegantly rewritten history that seemed to capture the essence of a character struggling to cope with the trappings of power while ruling, at a very young age, over the world’s most expansive empire. As the coming-of-age queen, Blanchett was a portrait of insecurity, naked ambition and steely determination.

During her Golden Age, she seems somehow weaker, driven to graceless petulance by her passion for Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), the chiseled seafarer eager to colonize the Americas. She is taken by his superficial charms, and reduced to a jealous schoolgirl when he seduces her handmaid and only friend, Elizabeth (Abbie Cornish). It's a turn made embarrassingly convincing by Blanchett, as Hirst and William Nicholson’s screenplay does its best to undercut the image of the strong monarch presented in Elizabeth.

It is not until Philip II (Jordi Mollà) and his Spanish armada approach the English coast that Elizabeth recaptures her stony fortitude, leading Raleigh and a hopelessly outmanned British fleet to victory over the world’s foremost naval force. The Golden Age glosses over the event – a profound one, considering its impact on the balance of global power and its lasting, devastating effect on Spain – a bit too casually, reducing an epic battle to Die Hard-style theatrics, set against Craig Armstrong’s blaring score.

The Golden Age makes the most of (or, one might argue, exhausts) the good will engendered by Kapur’s superior predecessor, but to what end? Blanchett, who could have easily earned another Oscar nomination for her carefully controlled performance, is again the director’s greatest asset. His weakness is his tendency to fall back on silly, melodramatic contrivance better suited to popcorn fare than to a believable meditation on Elizabethan England. EXTRAS include Kapur's dry commentary, deleted scenes, a making-of documentary and welcome dose of actual history.