(CNN) -- A love story for the aged -- not just for the ages -- works only when its actors are the ones an audience puts on a pedestal, such as Meryl Streep, the newly crowned elder stateswoman of the romantic comedy.
Romantic comedies are a formulaic genre: Cute, bubbly (and don't forget a little quirky) professional young woman overcomes obstacles to ultimately fall in love with the unexpected man of her dreams. There is a reason Kate Hudson plays so well in romantic comedies.
But the rules are different when the romantic comedy features an older and more mature cast. The ideal female lead is a Meryl Streep type: smart, sophisticated, worldly and talented. So it is a coup to get Streep to fill one of these roles.
On Christmas Day, the ensemble romance "It's Complicated" opens with Streep, 60, and Alec Baldwin, 51, as the romantic leads and Steve Martin, 64, as the romantic foil.
It's a far cry from the Robert Pattinson, 23, Taylor Lautner, 17, and Kristen Stewart, 19, love triangle of the "Twilight" franchise, but it works. Streep already has a Golden Globe nomination in the best actress category, as well as another for her portrayal of Julia Child in this summer's hit, "Julie and Julia."
In "It's Complicated," Streep's character, Jane, has been divorced from Baldwin's Jake for 10 years, but the two start up a hot affair after spending the night together at their son's college graduation. Steve Martin is the newly divorced odd man out who falls for Jane in the middle of it all.
"It's incredible -- I'm 60, and I'm playing the romantic lead in romantic comedies!" Streep exclaimed in a recent issue of Vanity Fair. "Bette Davis is rolling over in her grave."
It is a pretty incredible feat in a world where women who are 60 have always been seen as mothers, grandmothers or old maids on the silver screen. But with Streep involved, all of a sudden, the 60-year-old woman, who may also be a mother and grandmother, is portrayed as sexy. "Talent is the greatest aphrodisiac," co-star Baldwin said.
Romantic comedic lead is a role that Streep has grown into after years of playing dramatic roles in movies like "Sophie's Choice," "Out of Africa" and "Kramer vs. Kramer."
"For most of her career, Ms. Streep has been iconic as a 'great actress' but wasn't seen as a box office draw. Sometimes, she was even viewed as box office poison," said Brandon Grey, publisher of Box Office Mojo, a Web site that catalogs box office earnings. "People may not have seen many of her movies, but Meryl Streep has been in the public consciousness for around 30 years. Ms. Streep's recent successes have skewed female in their appeal, and adult women will likely be the driving force for 'It's Complicated.' "
Streep's fellow sexagenarian -- the highly talented, award-winning actress Diane Keaton, 63 -- pulled off the mature romantic lead in 2003's "Something's Gotta Give," starring opposite Jack Nicholson. That film, which was written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who also wrote and directed "It's Complicated," brought in $124 million at the box office. But Keaton's subsequent romantic comedy attempt "Because I Said So" fell flat, bringing in $42 million at the box office.
Keaton and Streep are well-trained, funny and beautiful actresses, but Streep -- and this woman she has grown into at age 60 -- has an X factor that makes her perfect for the role of the mature romantic lead. Streep's lead role in the movie musical "Mama Mia" opposite three male leads -- Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan -- brought in $144 million at the box office and scored her plenty of accolades.
"You can't define what makes somebody sexy and appealing, but she's certainly got it. On screen and off screen, she's a delightful person, she's very witty and she can keep up with the boys with her intelligence," said Martin, her co-star in "It's Complicated."
Streep's ability to appear as if she does keep up with the boys makes her attractive to mature male and female audiences, which could just make "It's Complicated," the date night hit for the Christmas season.