Rilke said, in his Letters To A Young Poet: “It is good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us.” Crazy, Stupid, Love feels as though, in another universe where it was an indie dramedy, or an HBO miniseries, or a P.T. Anderson movie, it would explore this idea a bit more fully. It certainly seems to make stabs in that direction, as it follows a group of unlucky-in-love suburbanites flung together and apart by the vicissitudes of fate, but the result is an odd mixture of real humor and emotion and some fantastically likable acting, mixed with just enough Hollywood cliché to prevent the film from over-achieving.
The bulk of the film focuses on the relationship between Cal (Steve Carell) and Jacob (Ryan Gosling); Cal’s a sadsack middle-aged man who’s been with the same woman for 25 years, only to find himself on the bad end of a divorce request. Not knowing what to do beyond complain about his lot to strangers in a bar, he attracts the attention of Jacob, the bar’s resident player/pickup artist/lady’s man, slowly sleeping his way through an entire city as they filter through a single upscale establishment. Lovesick over his wife, lonely, and ready to move on, Cal falls under Jacob’s tutelage, resulting in the completely-expected-but-generally-pleasing makeover montage scene. (“Are you Steve Jobs? Are you a billionaire? Then you have no business wearing New Balance sneakers. Ever.”) Transition complete, Cal sets off on his own mini-warpath through the women of the city, intent to leave behind the memory of his wife, the only woman he’s ever slept with. Only he is, of course, still in love with her.
Jacob, for his part, uses sex to mask a deep-seated inability to connect with women, which is explained through an almost painfully Freudian conversation regarding his relationship with his parents. That all changes, of course, when he meets Hannah (Emma Stone), a fierce yet vulnerable young woman who’s using him for her own, adorable ends. If there’s an MTV Movie Award for “Best Foreplay” next year, expect the couple to win it going away; their goofy interchange sheds a more gentle light to Jacob, who theretofore comes across as somewhat crass. That’s through no fault of Gosling’s, of course, who digs into the meat of the stock ladies’ man character and somehow makes Jacob compelling; as it turns out, all he needed was the love of a good woman to set him on the straight and narrow path toward monogamy. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but it’s done rather sweetly here; Stone, for her part, fires on all possible charm cylinders, even if she does disappear from the film for long chunks of it.
It’s that notion of the film being “completely-expected-but-generally-pleasing” that detracts a bit from the pleasures of Crazy Stupid Love. Written by Dan Fogelman, of Cars “fame” and unobtrusively directed by the duo behind I Love You Phillip Morris, it’s a film that feels as though it’s the result of a few too many studio notes; characters shift from having earnest, enjoyable conversations with each other to making mawkish speeches about the nature of love and sex in front of large crowds of complete strangers; there’s even a Donnie Darko-esque musical montage of everyone facing their darkest hour late in the film. At times it seems to almost poke fun at itself in this regard, as when Carrell and his ex (Julianne Moore) have a fight outside their son’s high school; it’s probably Cal’s low point, and of course a torrent of rain opens up on his head as soon as she leaves. It’s a hell of a cliché, and so of course Cal has to say to himself: “What a cliché.” That level of self-awareness can be a bit toxic, though, especially when a film is trying to be honest with an audience; luckily it's a rare occurrence here.
The indulgence in romantic dramedy tropes might be a distraction from the real heart of the film, but luckily they can be an awfully entertaining distraction at times; there’s a late-film fight sequence that seems to almost revel in its ridiculousness, to hilarious effect. Situationally, the movie might have its weaknesses, but it’s still laugh-out-loud funny more often than not, and it wisely saves its biggest moments for the last half-hour. Even if Carell feels like he’s played this role before, in films like Dan In Real Life and Date Night, that doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s good at it, in a way that makes you immediately sympathetic towards his character, even when he’s at his self-pitying worst. The rest of the ensemble is likewise excellent; Stone’s a delight every time she’s on screen, showcasing all of the cuteness and crack comedic timing that made her so fun in Easy A, while Moore’s talents redeem what could’ve easily been a rather off-putting character in lesser hands. Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei are likable in smaller, sometimes thankless roles as the alternate love interests for the central couple. The actor who plays Cal’s son is generally bad, however, to the point where they have his parents actually make fun of him as a kind of surrogate for how the audience must feel; the film feels a bit overlong, and probably could’ve done without his subplot.
Crazy Stupid Love is about what you might expect of it: a mixture of sincerity and honesty with some of the Hollywood artifice of a big-budget production. Luckily, it mostly retains the best of both worlds: the humor, while often beholden to awfully cute coincidences for its setups, is actually funny, and the relationships between the characters are believable and often touching. There is that slight yet persistent tinge of triteness, though, that might hold the film back from landing on your list of favorite dramedies; it shouldn’t, however, discourage you from checking out one of the better romantic films of the summer.
Trailer: Crazy, Stupid, Love
If Emma Stone has to kiss anyone, and it's not me, I guess Ryan Gosling would be OK.
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