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Meryl Streep in 'It's Complicated'Is 60 the new 50 -- or even 40 -- for certain Hollywood actresses? It sure looks that way for at least one star who spent the early part of her career mainly playing serious, Oscar-worthy roles; who has never relied solely on her looks; and who has an effortless sexiness that comes with not taking herself too seriously. We're talking, of course, about Meryl Streep, arguably the best American actress of her generation. In the new (January 2010) issue of Vanity Fair, which explores her continued box office success, the screen veteran exclaims, "It's incredible -- I'm 60, and I'm playing the romantic lead in romantic comedies!"

She's referring to the much-anticipated 'It's Complicated,' opening Christmas day, which co-stars Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. In the movie Streep is a divorcee with grown children who has a torrid affair with her ex (Baldwin), now married to a much younger woman; it's all further complicated by her burgeoning relationship with a sensitive architect (Martin). Who better to carry off such a delicious role (and its witty repartee) than Streep? Yet, as she herself noted, it's almost unheard of for a mature woman to play such a part in a rom-com, one of the most traditional movie genres. Meryl Streep in 'It's Complicated'Is 60 the new 50 -- or even 40 -- for certain Hollywood actresses? It sure looks that way for at least one star who spent the early part of her career mainly playing serious, Oscar-worthy roles; who has never relied solely on her looks; and who has an effortless sexiness that comes with not taking herself too seriously. We're talking, of course, about Meryl Streep, arguably the best American actress of her generation. In the new (January 2010) issue of Vanity Fair, which explores her continued box office success, the screen veteran exclaims, "It's incredible -- I'm 60, and I'm playing the romantic lead in romantic comedies!"

She's referring to the much-anticipated 'It's Complicated,' opening Christmas day, which co-stars Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. In the movie Streep is a divorcee with grown children who has a torrid affair with her ex (Baldwin), now married to a much younger woman; it's all further complicated by her burgeoning relationship with a sensitive architect (Martin). Who better to carry off such a delicious role (and its witty repartee) than Streep? Yet, as she herself noted, it's almost unheard of for a mature woman to play such a part in a rom-com, one of the most traditional movie genres.

Of course 'It's Complicated' was written and directed by a woman, Nancy Meyers -- also responsible for 'Something's Gotta Give,' in which a middle-aged woman (Diane Keaton) finds romance with her daughter's much older boyfriend (Jack Nicholson). In that story, however, Keaton was 50-something to Nicholson's 63, a pretty typical Hollywood age spread. The two leads in 'It's Complicated' are presumably the same age (though in real life Baldwin is nine years younger than his leading lady, which is a real Hollywood oddity. And a testimony to Streep's enduring attractiveness.) Meyers, who happens to be the same age as Streep, is one of only a handful of female directors working in mainstream movies; she's obviously tuned in to a huge segment of the public who doesn't usually get to see their own demographic portrayed as sexual beings on the big screen. Unless it's as a (yawn) cougar or other exotic species.

But Meyers or no, Meryl has managed to have a career that defies convention. With her atypical beauty and clear, unmannered acting style, she first attracted attention In the '70s via supporting roles in films such as 'Julia' and 'The Deer Hunter.' In 1979, she had a cameo in Woody Allen's 'Manhattan' (starring Keaton), the same year that saw her big-screen breakthrough, 'Kramer vs. Kramer,' for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. A few years later, she nabbed the Best Actress statue for 'Sophie's Choice.' (She's been nominated for 13 additional Oscars over the years.) Though she appeared in all types of films throughout the '80s and '90s, major success came mainly with dramas. Then, at an age when many actresses take on less adventurous roles, Streep branched out, playing a writer who has an affair with an eccentric orchid collector in Spike Jonze's fantastic (in every sense of the word) 'Adaptation' (2002), a down-home country-folk singer in Robert Altman's 'A Prairie Home Companion' (2006) and an overbearingly stylish (but human) fashion editor in 'The Devil Wears Prada' (2006) To many, she was the most enjoyable thing about the 2008 musical 'Mamma Mia!,' in which she seemed to be having a blast.


'It's Complicated' trailers & clips

Which brings us to what may be the X factor in Streep's ability to play convincing sex symbols: She seems like a s@&!-load of fun! (as she might say in her own salty way). Her Julia Child in this year's 'Julie & Julia' was brimming with high spirits (and, yes, a special kind of sexiness); and her sultry-sounding Mrs. Fox was a great match for George Clooney's smooth Mr. in Wes Anderson's animated 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' Even in portraying the sour Sister Aloysius in 2008's 'Doubt,' Streep seemed to be enjoying herself immensely. Off screen, she's known for her nutty, self-deprecating speeches at awards shows. Despite owning fierce acting chops, she obviously doesn't take herself all that seriously, which is always a major turn-on. Another plus: suffused as it is with her upbeat spirit, Streep's surgically unenhanced face is as lovely as ever.

To be sure, she's not the only mature actress who can play sexy. Susan Sarandon, another fearless thespian, has lost none of her sultriness, but the closest she's come to starring in a romance recently was opposite Ralph Fiennes' gay butler in 2006's 'Bernard and Doris.' The aforementioned Keaton has mainly been exercising her comedy muscle playing moms ('Because I Said So,' 'The Family Stone') since 2003's 'Something's Gotta Give,' though she was romanced by Jeff Daniels in the little seen Jon Heder flick 'Mama's Boy.' It may be acclaimed British actress Helen Mirren (heating up the screen since 1979's 'Caligula') who, at age 64, is the reigning queen of mature sirens. Currently starring as Tolstoy's fiery wife in 'The Last Station,' she's clearly still making the most of her sex appeal. Paparazzi shots a few years back of the actress sporting a red bikini famously put the "sexy" in "sexagenarian."

As far as playing sexy in a major romantic comedy, though, Streep seems to have the field to herself. Maybe if 'It's Complicated' proves to be box office gold, that will change and we'll see more older women cast in romantic roles. But for now, we're grateful for the chance to see such a great actress acting like "a bit of a slut" (to quote the movie) in theaters everywhere.