A film review by Craig J. Koban August 3, 2011


2011, PG-13, 117 mins.


Cal: Steve Carell / Jacob: Ryan Gosling / Emily Julianne Moore / Hannah: Emma Stone / Jessica: Analeigh Tipton / Robbie: Jonah Bobo / Molly: Joey King / Kate: Marisa Tomei / Claire: Beth Littleford / Bernie: John Carroll Lynch / Lindhagen: Kevin Bacon

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa / Written by Dan Fogelman

If there is one element that separates CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE from most other recent middle-brow romcoms it would be how adeptly directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS) balance sweetness with cynicism, which in my mind is a really thorny dichotomy to pull off effectively.  

Too saccharine and the film would have been intolerable and too jaded and nihilistic and it would have been a depressing endurance test.  Thankfully, CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE understands the trials and tribulations of falling in and out of love (regardless of age or gender) better than most tired, insipid, and routine romcoms.  Yet, it grasps for and nearly reaches greatness at times only to hold itself victim to soap opera contrivances.  Nonetheless, the film is perceptive, moving, and insightful about romantic pathos. 

Better yet is that it contains a rich treasure trove of actors that combine to form a winning ensemble that keeps everything jubilantly afloat in the film, even when the sometimes shoddy and convenient scripting sometimes betrays their superlative work.  We meet Carl Weaver (Steve Carell) early on in the film and he is living the proverbial good, middle-upper class suburban dream: he’s gainfully employed, has a fairly luxurious home, and smart and well-rounded kids.  A wrench, so to speak, is quickly thrown into his cozy lifestyle machine when his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore) abruptly announces to him in front of many other restaurant patrons that she wants to leave him and file for divorce.  The reason?  She’s been sleeping with a coworker, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), which leaves the befuddled and hurt Carl so speechless and upset that he literally throws himself from the car on the bumpy ride home. 

Carl’s only choice is to leave his wife and home, so he sets himself up with an apartment and then proceeds to spend his lonely nights at local pubs and bars, during which he pathetically and drunkenly dispatches his laundry list of grievances to many annoyed fellow drinkers.  It is at this point when he catches the attention of a young stud named Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) who is a textbook womanizer with just the right attitude, clothes, ripped physique, and words to get any woman – and I do mean any woman – into the sack with nearly the snap of his fingers.  Jacob’s habitual nocturnal quest to get laid and get laid often is impeded by watching poor Carl drink his sorrows away.  He decides to intervene, take Carl under his tutelage, and give him a crash course in Swinger’s Lifestyle 101 so that Carl can get his confidence and self esteem back. 

Carl, of course, is a sad sack and has very little experience with women, seeing as he has only been with one woman, Emily, his entire life.  Nonetheless, Jacob considers it a challenge to makeover Carl into a one-man heartbreaker to the single ladies, which starts awkwardly and then materializes with successes.  While this is occurring the film also crosses the paths of other characters with love pains of their own: Carl’s adolescent son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has an unwavering crush on the much older family babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) whereas she, inconveniently enough, has her own obsessive crush on Carl.  Beyond this highly odd love triangle, the story also introduces us to a career and independent minded law student named Hannah (Emma Stone) that has had a previous encounter with Jacob, but instantly brushed off his advances.  However, through chance and some deflating personal news, Hannah finds herself drawn back to Jacob and the two begin a relationship during which – gasp! – the once skirt chasing chauvinist finds himself falling for the girl…and he’s not sure how to process his new feelings of loyalty and monogamy.

Again, it’s the film’s nice level of sobering melancholy mixed in with its insights into romantic perplexity and uncertainty that really stands out, which is greatly assisted by most of the actors.  Headliner Steve Carell may be one of the shrewdest and persuasive actors for playing believably wounded, socially uncoordinated, and vulnerable middle-aged men and he dexterously makes Carl both a funny and pitiful creation.  Then there is the routinely great Julianne Moore as his wife, who has the really tricky and thankless task of making Emily both an unsympathetic adulterer and an emotionally troubled victim in her own way.  Emma Stone once again brings her luminously winning screen presence to the table playing Hannah with her trademark confidence, intelligence, low-key sex appeal, and understated comic timing (just watch how good she is during a long, all-night seduction scene with Gosling’s Jacob, the film’s highlight sequence).  Even the younger performers, Jonah Bobo and especially Analeigh Tipton, seem to evoke a maturity and poise well beyond their years. 

Ryan Gosling, however, utterly owns just about every minute he occupies in CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE as the cunningly groomed and tailored pick-up artist that has his own world rocked by the onset of emotions he feels for Stone’s Hannah.  I have always considered Gosling to be one of the finest performers of his generation and perhaps the heir apparent to Robert De Niro.  Those that question my opinion need only to look at his remarkably varied and well chosen roles: he gave Oscar caliber performances as a inner-city drug addicted teacher in HALF NELSON, a socially stunted introvert that befriended a sex doll in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, and in last year’s BLUE VALENTINE he gave one of the most enthralling and mesmerizing performances ever as a young lover and married man that sees his marriage slowly crumble before him.  In CRAZY, STUPID LOVE Gosling is a special type of double threat: he demonstrates movie star bravado, magnetism, and charm while at the same time relaying himself as an savvy student of performance craft.  He has to play Jacob as a hound on the prey, a sage-like Yoda figure to Carl, and later a confused and doubtful man in love…and all while having pitch perfect comic sensibilities.  He also miraculously makes Jacob simultaneously loathsome and likeable. 

Yet, all the textured and well-delineated performances here are almost upstaged by the script’s oftentimes preposterous coincidences and mechanical revelations (especially in a beyond neat and woefully convenient third act, where all of the players come to a head).  All of the keen relationship insight and human observation that the film maintained throughout is nearly capsized by the manner the conclusion opts for farcical and TV sitcom-worthy machinations, which also has the effect of making the already long film feel even longer.  Performers like Bacon and Marisa Tomei (the latter who shows up as one of Carl’s one-night flings) are misused: Bacon never emerges as a fully formed character (but he at least never plays his role as the proverbial asshole home wreaker) and Tomei seems almost manically caffeinated playing a nymphomaniac.  Furthermore, I guess that one of the underlining premises of the film - let’s take a down-on-his-luck schlub and make him over into an assured babe magnet – is not all that original.  Uuuhhh, HITCH, anyone?

It’s too bad, because CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE had most of the requisite ingredients to make for a genre/game-changing romcom.  To be fair, the film adroitly combines hearty laughs with carefully nuanced melodrama into a mixture that’s neither too unbearably condescending nor comically mawkish.  I would aptly describe CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE as crazily amusing, sometimes stupidly conventional, but lovely for its endearingly soulful performances.  Yeah, that sounds about right. 

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