I was all set to hate “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”. For starters, the title is terrible. Not only is it a punctuation nightmare, but it also encapsulates everything that’s annoying about romantic comedies. Love, man. It’s so craaaazy! And stupid! The last thing we need is another movie about Metrosexual Henry Higgins teaching some nerd how to bag babes. The poster recycles that tired nod to “The Graduate” with an anxious man beneath the arch of a sexy lady leg. Along the bottom is a series of headshots of the other actors staring off into the middle distance and smiling knowingly about how crazy and stupid love is. Well, I hope that whoever was in charge of marketing gets a stern talking-to, because “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”, while possessing a few slightly unbelievable moments of coincidence, is not really stupid at all. Crazy!
Cal (Steve Carell) is utterly shattered when his adulterous wife (Julianne Moore) drops the Divorce bomb on him. By the time Playboy Extraordinaire, Jacob (Ryan Gosling), takes him under his wing, Cal has hit a lot of new lows including repeating his tale of woe to everyone within earshot at the local singles bar. After a refreshingly amusing variation on the obligatory training and makeover montage (peppered with much comedic slapping), Cal is ready to field test his new social skills. Predictably, he does everything wrong on his first night out. Nonetheless, it somehow works on a jaded wild woman (Marisa Tomei) who gets off on his extreme honesty. With Cal’s newfound confidence, the Dud-erpillar is re-born as a Stud-erfly. Once all that is out of the way, the film is finally free to become the drollest and distinctly mature mainstream romantic comedy in years.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they loaded the cast with talent. Ryan Gosling flexes his impressive comedic muscles, breathing new life into the lonely lothario persona. Despite chiseled abs and a curious accent, Gosling’s Jacob is more Barney Stinson than the Situation, with a sensitive soul lurking just below the surface of his exfoliated skin. It’s not until he meets Hannah (Emma Stone), the only woman to ever deconstruct his methods, that he considers dropping the designer act and being himself full time.
Carrell’s abused puppy face isn’t anything new, but he’s really quite good at it. Julianne Moore effortlessly packs both humor and pathos into every line. Stone is almost supernaturally beguiling as a misguided pragmatist just out of law school. Tomei plays her part a little broad, but I’m assuming it’s because she didn’t read the rest of the script and based her performance off the tone that the title implies.
Even the youngest actors hold their own in a cute, if over-explored, love triangle subplot. Cal’s thirteen-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is in love with the four-years-older babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). Meanwhile, Jessica crushes on an oblivious Cal, even before his wardrobe overhaul. Bobo expertly wields the articulation and mannerisms of precociously insightful youth. Though several years out of high school, Tipton manages to squeeze her adult self back into that awkward period when innocence and sexuality collide. Not bad for a former “America’s Next Top Model” contestant.
The clever script boasts plenty of surprises including an adorably self-aware seduction scene between Hannah and Jacob and just why it is that Jacob volunteers to help Cal in the first place. But the biggest revelation of all is that the film never goes where you expect it to, with Cal using his newfound self-esteem to trick his wife into falling for him again. In a time when comedies are mostly about outrageous one-upmanship, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” just wants to tell a story about people falling in and out of love. Though it contains idealistic characters, the script (by Dan Fogelman, “Cars”) is realistic in its execution. No one is infallible and no one (apart from a few peripheral characters) is an archetype. Young boys do think in absolutes. Maybe Cal and Emily don’t belong together, but you can definitely see why Cal might think there’s something worth salvaging. There are also real consequences to Cal’s period of sluttery, including a disastrous encounter with Tomei’s character, who was expecting to be more than just a confidence bone.
Despite all the surprises, it’s not a perfect film. They throw the kind of yucky phrase, “soul mate,” around a bit too much for my taste. But the biggest narrative misstep is with the kids’ storyline. Hannah disappears for a very large chunk of the film (presumably, she’s in Bar Exam hell), to make way for scene after scene of Robbie’s relentless pursuit of Jessica as she pines for Cal. Fogelman was probably trying to drive home the juxtaposition of love in its infancy (Cal and Emily met in high school) to love after it’s been corrupted by life. But Robbie’s unyielding romanticism and know-it-all confidence gets a bit tiring. It’s nothing out of character for a lovesick thirteen-year-old boy. We just don’t need to see it every time it happens.
The film starts to lose focus after a big scene that ties all the characters together and there are far too many endings for a movie that doesn’t actually resolve anything. Like most comedies that run longer than 90 minutes, they could have trimmed a lot of fat.
Still, not bad for a Rom-Com. Not bad at all.
Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).