The dirty little secret about the persistence of clichés has nothing to do with that stubborn kernel of truth nestled too cozily in the ever-shifting center. That assertion is only made to wrap an easy elegance around something far more pedestrian. The real reason clichés exist is because we need them. We crave the comfort and long to believe in anything that can be made so simple. As most stories are nothing more than cleverly presented clichés, it makes sense then that genre fiction is the most popular and pervasive.
Jumping from the page to the screen only further underscores the power of genre fiction. Scan the listings of any multiplex and you will find many titles but little variation or deviation from set types. Be it drama, comedy, horror, fantasy, mystery, action, adventure or romance most are stories that work within a known framework where simple resolution is the ultimate goal. In and of itself entertainment of this sort is not bad. The frustration for many, though, comes in the lazy presentation that disregards the role of an audience in the process of telling stories.
That is why the release this past summer of the adult romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. was met with surprised enthusiasm and support. Crazy, Stupid, Love. is a welcome reminder that Hollywood is still capable of producing mainstream movies that satisfy our need for engaging entertainment that is neither derisory or condescending. The film manages to blend humor with emotional depth and intelligence and rewards its audience with a resolution that is both comforting and honestly earned.
Cal Weaver (Steve Carrell) is the American everyman – content and oblivious. Lazily rumpled by the comfort of his long marriage and successful suburban life, Cal is caught completely unaware when his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore) announces that after 25 years of marriage she has had an affair with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon) and wants a divorce. After moving out a newly single Cal nurses his self-pity by hanging out at a sleek local club where he sits alone at the bar in his Dockers and sneakers and sips on cranberry vodkas through a straw. It’s here where he meets Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), the quintessential lothario, whose horror and amusement at the sight of Cal propels him to take Cal under his wing and teach him the ways of being a ladies’ man.
While the central narrative of Crazy, Stupid, Love. revolves around Cal and his fight to find himself and save his marriage to Emily their relationship is not the film’s only focus. The movie also explores the adolescent yearnings of the couple’s 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) whose intense crush on his babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) is hilariously complicated by her crush on Cal. Furthermore, the film is about the uncharted emotional territory Jacob navigates after he meets Hannah (Emma Stone), a recent law school graduate smart enough to see through Jacob’s playbook.
Do not mistake Crazy, Stupid, Love. for being anything above or beyond the genre film it is. This is a movie very much built and born from the romantic comedy laboratory of Hollywood studios. Narrative contrivances, happy accidents and elegant resolutions place this story nearer to fantasy than reality but there is an intelligence and warmth in this film that sets it apart. Crazy, Stupid, Love. is knowing without being cloy or condescending and that distinction is what makes for its difference.
Much of the fun and charm of Crazy, Stupid, Love. comes from the chemistry and interaction between the ensemble cast. While the film has all of the standard ingredients of a pre-packaged rom-com the actors do not treat their characters as being cardboard cutouts pulled from a box. The performances, especially from Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling, offer subtle and rueful dimension to characters that could easily slip into boring archetypes or crude parodies.
Truth be told Crazy, Stupid, Love. cannot fully decide what kind of film it wants to be. It’s an adult romantic comedy propelled by genuine melancholy mixed with heavy bromantic sensitivity and sprinkled with a dash of adolescent awkwardness and yearning. That directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris) cannot quite settle on a clear label for their movie is not an indictment or a source of disappointment. On the contrary, the film’s unwillingness to be easily categorized is refreshing, authentic feeling, and, oddly more engaging because of this structural fluidity.
It’s curious and rather lazy that Warner Brothers choose not to capitalize on the film’s successful theatrical run or the current buzz surrounding its cast (specifically hot and talented young things Stone and Gosling) when packaging this DVD set. The bonus material on the disc is fairly standard with the usual and uninspired offerings of short featurettes, deleted scenes and cast interviews. A lack of DVD extras, however, should not deter those viewers hungry to experience that (unfortunately) rare Hollywood export: an adult comedy that is both light and satisfying.