Crazy, Stupid, Love
Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Analeigh Tipton, Kevin Bacon
(Warner Brothers; US theatrical: 29 Jul 2010 (General release); UK theatrical: 29 Jul 2010 (General release); 2011)
Somewhere between Manhattan and (500) Days of Summer, between the whip smart dialogue of Woody Allen and the revisionist nonsense of the current fill-in-the-blank crop, the Romantic Comedy - or in this case, slightly less quixotic drama with humorous overtones - has grown insufferable. It’s taken its view of human relationships and all their nutty foibles and forced them through a prism of preposterous so massive the resulting rainbow literally blinds our ability to be entertained. In its place is a sense of pointless regurgitation similar to a Momma bird force feeding her offspring cement. So it’s a good thing that Crazy, Stupid, Love has the anarchic duo of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa, I Love You Phillip Morris) behind the lens. They bring some necessary skew to a film that often feels like a Showtime series robbed of its irreverence.
Cal Weaver (Steve Carrell) has just learned that his wife of over two decades, Emily (Julianne Moore), has slept with another man (Kevin Bacon) and wants a divorce. Almost immediately, he is out of the family home and setting up sad sack shop at a local singles bar. There, he meets smooth talking ladies man Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) and marvels at his ability to pick up women. The lothario takes pity on Cal and decides to teach him the ins and outs of getting the gals. In the meantime, our hero is dealing with his son’s sudden puppy lust obsession with the babysitter (Analeigh Tipton), who just so happens to hold a torch for dear old Dad as well, while Jacob settles down with a recent law school grad named Hannah (Emma Stone) who is trying to sort out her own love life. Naturally, things come to head for all involved, especially when dealing with something as crazy and stupid as love.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is like an old gas guzzler on a below zero winter morning - i.e. it takes FOREVER to get started, even threatening to never turn over at all. It throws random moments at the screen like meaningful filler, skipping important concepts like characterization and motivation to move us through 100 minutes of sitcom shuffling. Even with terrific performances from both of our male leads, and a likeable turn by our younger female star, the entire effort seems staged for maximum mainstream head-nodding. This isn’t a laughfest or a likeable turn into the darker hours of the human soul. Instead, it’s one of those movies where you’re supposed to recognize the “realistic” beats - friends choosing ‘sides’ in the divorce, kids clueless and disconnected, the meat marketing of the post-millennial singles scene - and shake your head in amused disapproval…or recognition.
Indeed, this is a film for those who’ve “been there, done that,” offering nothing new or insightful to the happily married or the non-narcissistic and self-centered. In Cal, we see every out of touch middle aged man, someone who “forgot” his marriage and “ignored” his responsibilities as a man…whatever those might be. In their place are slumped shoulders, no backbone, and a weak-willed whine that would make any woman run shrieking. As for Jacob, he’s the opposite - a Men’s Health mantra-ed DB who still gets any gal he wants and then shows them a Maxim measured ‘good time.’ We are supposed to see this modern interpretation of male machismo as admirable, as a perfectly muscled model of what today’s free thinking babe wants in a walking fantasy. And that he ends up happy - at least, by inference - is the icing on the icky cake.
We can thank Pixar employee Dan Fogelman for the scattered scripted insights. After all, who better to dissect the dilemmas of the contemporary married couple than the guy who wrote Cars, Cars 2, Fred Clause, Bolt, and Tangled? Sadly, almost everything listed before is smarter than this. Crazy, Stupid, Love is never truly laugh out loud clever, never anarchic or insane enough, barely breaches the serious territory it set-ups (a teenager sending nude photos to a middle aged man??? Really???) and likens its conclusions to tall tales, instead of truisms. If it wasn’t for a last act “twist” (no, not the one involving Cal and his son’s teacher), everything would disintegrate into a puddle of predictability.
Ficarra and Requa are just lucky they got the casting right. Carrell can do this kind of thing in his sleep and he definitely delivers. We don’t really root for Cal as much as hope that nothing really horrible happens to him - and that’s all the actor, not the actions. Similarly, Jacob could be a real jackass, but Gosling shows a surprising amount of courage in catering to the character’s superficial side. His speech about the battle of the sexes, as well as his cliched Romeo moves, makes his eventual transformation seem solid. Of the women, Moore looks miserable…too much so while Tipton can’t sell us on her older man crush. It’s up to Stone to carry her gender and she’s pretty great. Her scene with a cold hearted lawyer boyfriend is the kind of intelligent, insightful meltdown this material needs.
Sadly, almost anything that smart is in short supply here. While the direction is decent and the pace perky, Crazy, Stupid, Love is actually a lazy, turgid experience. It can achieve great highs as well as disastrous lows. It also commits the single greatest crime of a character study - it’s uneven. Instead of finding one tone and taking it to its logical limits, it bounces between farce and satire, depressing truth (rarely) and fictional fun. Cal is a comic device, not a real down on his luck dad. Jacob is a jerk joke, not a real life lady killer. From the ditzy adulterousness of Emily to the grrrl power rage of Hannah, the entire movie argues for authenticity and then gives us stereotyped stiffs. In the past, movies like this found identifiable individuals to champion and then let their problems play out with an organic ordinariness. Fast forward a few decades and you’ve got another almost insufferable undertaking.