Food as a Representation of Freedom
by Hannah Williams
In It’s Complicated (2009), Jane Adler is a divorced mother who independently starts her own bakery/food shop. This film explores the joys and troubles of a woman freed from the constraints of marriage. Jane explores affairs, including one with her own remarried ex-husband, and reclaims the narrative of the divorced mother. Jane’s social and professional lives are decorated with decadent pastries and delicious meals. Food is a quiet but also powerful character on the set of It’s Complicated. Mealtimes, afternoon drinks, and late-night pastry runs provide ample opportunity for making and breaking relationships in the life of Jane Adler. Jane, much like food, unifies and sustains her community. Additionally, food is also the thing that gives Jane autonomy and a sense of wholeness outside of her traditional roles.
Women and their historical tie to nurturing and therefore feeding are brought into a modern light in It’s Complicated. Jane owning her own food-related business sends a message to the audience that just as food is a binder, so is the caring provider of the family. Jane, still a nurturer to her children, takes her role as “bread maker” and alters it, making herself into a “breadwinner.” This film can be seen as a commentary on the views we have of divorced women and women more generally. Jane is not a supporting character but is rather the main character of this film and her lack of a husband actually enhances her lifestyle, instead of bringing her to shame, shaping the nature of joy and excitement in her life.
The financial autonomy Jane is able to have because of her business creates a sense of independence and completeness in her character. Jane’s food business gives her economic independence and in this sense, the film shows how an area that was once considered a “woman’s sphere” can be used to her advantage as a way to gain independence. Jane’s food becomes her art and her avenue to an independent life outside of being a mother and wife. The chocolate croissant scene, appropriately called “Fun is not Overrated,” serves as a representative scene in the film. Jane takes Adam to her shop and tells him he can order whatever he’d like. Jane not only teaches Adam how to make the croissant, but she joyfully jokes throughout the entire process, making the whole experience beautiful and meaningful. In this scene, the patience and love Jane shows through the extensive work she does to make a single croissant for Adam expresses an idea of indulgence. Jane is someone who indulges in joy and doesn’t treat business as a chore but rather treats it as a pleasure. It may seem nonsensical to spend so much time and energy to make a single croissant for one person, but Jane’s joyful approach to a professional occupation undoes the American stereotype of not mixing “business with pleasure.” Jane is seldom a “rule follower” in this movie and this characteristic is shown in a positive light, suggesting that the submissive and doting mother and wife is not necessarily the happiest.
In this film, laughter, fights, and discussion pour out over meals and alcohol. Jane’s family and friends are seen eating at several points of unity and also of conflict. Comfort and social togetherness is represented by food and food can be seen as synonymous to communal time.
Jane bonds with her children and even ex-husband, Jake, during meal times. Mealtime is when “real” life happens, moments when life slows down and real thoughts are expressed. Having Jane’s profession be centered around food is a representation for her entire life being open and her individuality being liberated. Food creates community and bonding even when situations get awkward and words don’t seem appropriate, such as the uncomfortable conversations between a divorced pair.
Jane represents a new age of divorcees, one who is unashamed and happy. Food represents vitality and youth, as well as sustainability in personal progress. Jane is independent, sexually liberated, and happy- three things the film presents as ideal for a woman. Jane’s wisdom points the audience to see that while life and love are complicated, the pleasures of food don’t have to be.
Meyers, Nancy, director. It’s Complicated. Universal Pictures, 2009.