Monday, September 3, 2012
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Jonah Bobo, Analeigh Tipton, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Littleford, Liza Lapira, Josh Groban
Running Time: 118 min.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
If not for everything else it has going for it, last year's somewhat unfortunately titled Crazy, Stupid, Love would still be worth watching for further confirmation that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone completely rule. Individually they're super talented, but together they're somehow even more magnetic than expected. And they're really not even the stars of the film, but steal it anyway with the two or three extended sequences that put the rest of the movie to shame. That's no small order considering the rest of it is a smart, funny, well written look at romantic pitfalls from a few different perspectives. Other than occasionally being too interested in showing off connections between certain characters and storylines, it actually has something to say while still delivering the laughs. Steve Carell is again in top form playing a middle-aged sad sack, but it's Gosling who steals the show, adding an off kilter comic turn to his already impressive list of 2011 performances. The unlikely duo end up carrying an entertaining premise further than it really has any right going.
Carell plays Cal Weaver, a middle-aged married man who learns his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) cheated on him with her co-worker David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon) and wants a divorce. Kicked out of the house and distraught, he drowns his sorrows at a bar every night, whining to complete strangers about his wife's betrayal. This catches the attention of smooth womanizer Jacob Palmer (Gosling), who can't stand watching this "former shell of a man" wallow in self-pity any longer and offers his services, promising Cal he'll transform his image and help him pick up women. Ironically, as Jacob steadily improves Cal's prospects, he's rejected by brainy law school grad Hannah (Emma Stone). Meanwhile at home, Cal's 13-year-old son Robbie ( Jonah Bobo) harbors a unrequited crush on his 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who actually has a crush of her own on Cal. All this while he and Emily adjust to single life apart, wondering if there's still any chance of a reconciliation.
The scenes with Carell and Gosling make the movie, with the the former playing a hilarious, deadpan variation on his character in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. That is if he eventually got married, had kids and his wife left him for another man. Cal's always been a geek, but was never aware of just how much of one until he's single and Gosling's Jacob pulls no punches in letting him know it. Scenes where he shows him all his pick-up tricks and attempts to outfit him in a new wardrobe, are among the many highlights in their mentor-student bromance. And is there anyone cooler than Gosling? This is one of the few movies where I actually believed a guy could effortlessly pick up that many women in so little time. He then proceed to believably teach a class on it. What's funnier is that he plays Jacob as womanizing slime and still somehow makes him not only seem charming and likable, but worth rooting for. We'd also believe his schemes would come to a screeching halt when he discovers Emma Stone's goofy, but strangely desirable Hannah, resulting in the movie's best written and performed sequence. Stone, one of the select few actresses actually capable of making me laugh out loud with a facial expression or joke, proves again here that her comic timing is spot-on.
Jacob's mentoring relationship with Cal clicks largely because each wants what the other has even though they don't know it yet, causing most of the story's complications. Less effective are attempts to create any sympathy for Moore's philandering wife. Yes, women cheat for a reason. We know that. However, Cal never seems to be guilty of anything beyond being excessively dorky during their marriage so when his starts bedding women during their separation, sympathy for her is minimal, if non-existent. This creates a poor payoff to a sub-plot involving Cal and a horny teacher played by Marisa Tomei that mostly misses its mark. I get what the writers were going for, but Moore's character is just too unlikable and one-dimensionally written to earn our sympathy. Surprisingly, the sub-plot involving Robbie's crush on his babysitter is better developed, coming off more sweet than creepy thanks to the winning performances of Bobo and Tipton. Kevin Bacon is suitably slimy as the "other guy" who breaks up Cal and Emily's marriage, and once you move past the inevitable "Is that who I think it is?" reaction, singer Josh Groban makes a solid debut with an extended cameo as Hannah's boyfriend, who couldn't care less about her.
This movie is as predictable as just about any other rom-com, with an ending that puts the "crazy" in its title and brings all the intersecting story threads together in one huge comic finale. What sets it apart is the acting and writing that's more interested in exploring truths about relationships than relying on plot contrivances to advance the story. There are some of them, but for the most part you're too engaged with the characters to even care. But who are we kidding? The real reason this entire movie works is because of Carell, Gosling and Stone. Without them, it's unlikely anyone would even be talking about Crazy, Stupid, Love much less showering it with praise. It's one of the rare, smart romantic comedies and a great example of how funny material can elevate and be elevated by talented actors.