One look at the television spots for Crazy, Stupid, Love or, let’s face it, just reading the title, and your justifiable cynicism towards the romantic comedy will be triggered, assuming you’re attached to a pair of testicles. Either way, you’re in luck. A couple trip-ups aside we’re looking at one of the rare examples of smart cinema on the topic of relationships. This movie does the unexpected, admitting it doesn’t know the answers but letting you to have more fun asking the questions well after you’ve left the theater.
Ok, so maybe it’s not quite Jerry Maguire or Swingers, but Crazy, Stupid, Love comes pretty close to being both at the same time. It’s strikingly irreverent towards its own genre while satisfying on all the lightweight levels you want it to. More importantly to its own success, it steers clear of the sort of things you’ve never wanted, but always seem to get spoon-fed in movies. There’s exception to this in a considerably disappointing late-movie lecture, but even that one is forgivable, given the fantasy fulfilling twists that immediately precede and follow it.
At the start, Cal (Steve Carell), while struggling to select a dessert in the middle of a restaurant, is told by his wife (Julianne Moore) that she wants a divorce, to the horror of surrounding tables. The idea is that if we take all the embarrassing, awkward, hurtful aspects of dealing with emotions and drag them out into the soft light of the pre-packaged Hollywood movie, we can take account of how absurd they all are and feel more comfortable living alongside them. In this way, it shares something with Beginners, a film that asked us to eliminate the stigma on depression.
That’s not to say this movie holds any hands. The directors of Crazy, Stupid, Love are best known for their writing duties on Bad Santa, and I’m surprised to learn this script wasn’t of their own making. It has the same cutting straight talk that served that movie but instead comes from an author of B-list animation films. Cal is in the uncouth cocoon stage of being blasted back onto the singles scene, only having had to impress one woman in the past. Limited to drinking alone and slurring about his wife’s cheating, this guy is ripe for intervention. It comes in the form of queer-eyed local ladies man Jacob (Ryan Gosling) who decides to make Cal his own philanthropic hobby after only two nights.
For a complete stranger, he’s doing this. “Why does that matter? Maybe you remind me of someone.” is considerably more respectable than deciding your title will be Just Go With It and praying that your audience does. Gosling is atypically cast in a sort of Tyler Durden mould, if that character were to give up his thrift shop wardrobe for whatever’s advertised in Esquire magazine. The first shot of Crazy, Stupid, Love is keenly aware of shoes being the window to the soul, rather than sensitivity in the eyes of a grifter.
So he’ll commandeer the New Balance sneakers, switch out Supercuts for a stylist, and slap the sad sack in the face repeatedly to trigger transformation. It’ll be done with a hint of Jersey in the accent and a few street tough mannerisms subtly forced out of Jacob’s trust-fund origins and has a lot in common with Bill Murray’s gangster turn in Mad Dog and Glory, where De Niro was the sincerest chump. That was an attempt to move from comedy to serious acting, and Gosling manages to flip that on the same blueprint. It’s extremely well played and coupled with this year’s Drive will keep the actor on his post-Oscar-nom fast track.
As entertaining as the side stories are, it proves impossible to juggle them gracefully. There’s at least one scene inserted purely to justify bringing back Kevin Bacon for a catastrophic crossing of characters, and Gosling’s Jacob and Cal’s daughter are phased out for such a tremendous length of time that you wonder if they’ll ever return.
Of the supporting, America’s Top Model contestant-cum-actress Analeigh Tipton is the real surprise, in the role of a teenage babysitter caught between the unrelenting romantic gestures of Cal’s son, and her serious crush on his father. Tipton is absolutely perfect for dizzy not dumb, dorky beautiful, fairy flight optimistic but only ever wishing she had the chutzpah to act on admiration for an older man. I also saw an unfinished cut of Damsels in Distress, a movie that will soon close out the Venice Film Festival. Frankly, it looked irredeemable as a comedy but her leading role is benefits from the same approach. Too early to know if she can do anything else, but I’m happy she’s graduated from reality television.
On the subject of the irredeemable, I want to close out by saying that Crazy, Stupid, Love manages to do something exceptional in the however uneven balance of ensemble. For almost every other Romantic Comedy there are people in the audience that find the message it delivers or the behavior of its characters deplorable. Does your ideology not jive with a one-night-stand specialist chalking up his behavior to vulnerability, suddenly claiming love on the road to redemption? Think it’s not even remotely ok for a mother to break up her family on the flimsy justification of midlife crisis? Can’t stand sincerity to such fault that her husband considers her adulterous instability to be his own failure? Maybe Emma Stone’s career-minded wholesomeness comes too close to repression for you to support life lived less than fully.
Well, this cast is carefully crafted so that someone will always voice your concerns to the characters in this movie, and with just enough edge to hit those marks in an accessibly pleasant atmosphere. Every example of love it provides will ring somewhat less than genuine, but that’s because most people aren’t without doubt in their own pursuits. By the time Crazy, Stupid, Love makes the poor choice of carpet bombing an audience of fidgeting extras with that concept, you’re already too sufficiently charmed by the honesty to take offense.
Josh Parker: Most romantic comedies (or romantic “dramedy” in this case) are fairly formulaic, and Crazy, Stupid, Love isn’t really an exception to the rule. Steve Carell is well within his comfort zone here (which is to say playing a man completely out of his comfort zone) as the highly relatable Cal Weaver, a husband and father simply trying to keep it together after his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) reveals she wants a divorce after sleeping with another man. Ryan Gosling is great as the womanizing Jacob, who starts to question his ways after meeting a woman (Emma Stone) who is seemingly impervious to his methods — and proves he’s woefully underused in Hollywood today as he steals nearly every scene he’s in. Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon also make brief appearances, and while Tomei has one absolutely hilarious scene, both herself and Bacon are mostly relegated to background noise. Yes, there are plenty of genre tropes throughout the film – the ladies man who falls for the “right girl”, the married couple suffering from a chronic case of don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-until-it’s-gone syndrome, and a child imparting Yoda-like wisdom to anyone willing to listen. However despite it’s rather paint-by-numbers methods, Crazy, Stupid, Love remains genuinely funny and has a ton of heart, something that seems rarer and rarer in this genre. 72 – Great.
Alec Kubas-Meyer: Although I think perhaps it falls more in line with fantasy, Crazy, Stupid, Love is still the best romantic comedy I have seen in years. The acting is uniformly excellent (with the exception of Julianne Moore, who was merely fine), with the all-star cast putting an amazing amount of honesty into their characters. The film is beautifully staged and written, leaving hints throughout the film to some honestly shocking and hilarious reveals. Misunderstandings abound as the characters try to figure out what exactly they are trying to accomplish, and I found myself laughing and cringing in equal parts. The ending is unrealistic to the point of fantasy, which clashes with some of that honesty, but the hilarity of it all was enough to overcome that. If you like romantic comedies, you must see Crazy, Stupid, Love. It is absolutely worth you time. As an aside, it also has one of the best uses of “fuck” I have ever seen in a PG-13 film. 80 – Great.