Film Review: “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

by Jason LeRoy on July 29, 2011

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore in CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.

starring: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo, Josh Groban

written by: Dan Fogelman

directed by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for coarse humor, sexual content and language

The regrettably named Crazy, Stupid, Love. is what passes for mature, adult-focused filmmaking in the summer movie season. On the one hand, this ensemble comedy is warm, funny, emotionally resonant, and impeccably acted. On the other, it traffics far too heavily in rote, cliched story arcs. It is Parenthood meets Love Actually, but lacks the realism of the former and the giddy charm of the latter. It is a film of many pleasures, but has been wrongly hyped as some kind of rom-com revolution.

As the film begins, Cal (Steve Carell) is informed by his wife of 25 years, Emily (Julianne Moore), that she has slept with someone else and wants a divorce. Cal accepts this information with very little resistance. He is a man who doesn’t have much fight left in him. He promptly moves into a small apartment and begins having daily drinks at the same lounge, bemoaning his plight to anyone who will listen. His whining eventually draws the attention of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a slick smoothie who is basically The Situation if he had taste. A ruthlessly efficient ladies’ man, Jacob is moved by the tragically rumpled mess that is Cal, and decides to take him under his wing and give him a MAKEOVER!!!

Meanwhile, Jacob sets his sights on the only girl who refuses his advances: Hannah (Emma Stone), a smart young woman just out of law school. Hannah is waiting for her boyfriend (inexplicably played by Josh Groban) to propose, but when that doesn’t pan out, she decides to give Jacob a chance. Hannah is different from the other girls, ho hum, and Jacob finally begins to reveal what’s beneath his player-swagger surface, blah blah blah. There’s also a storyline involving Cal and Emily’s dorky son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), who has a crush on his babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), unaware that she only has eyes for his father.

Watching a couple navigate a separation is certainly nothing new, although the film does bring a bittersweet affection to Cal and Emily’s relationship. They have been each other’s everything since they were teenagers, and we feel the pain and heartsickness they experience while attempting to diverge into separate lives. The babysitter love triangle is a lighthearted throwback to a bygone era of family comedies. But everything involving Jacob is just the worst. He is a walking cliche magnet: from the things he says to the storylines with which he’s involved. Making over a frump? Teaching a loser how to work on his game? Falling in love with the girl who resists him? Gradually revealing his vulnerability? It’s just too screenwriting-by-numbers. Throw in a climax that suddenly explodes into French farce and a denouement with an unforgivably maudlin two-person speech, and it’s just not as good as it should be. It would be one thing if CSL was playing with these familiar tropes, but it seems to be buying into them. There just isn’t much freshness here.

Carell once again finds himself playing a hapless hangdog, which is fortunately a type he plays very well. But I’m kinda getting to the point where I’d like to see him mix it up and play a villain or something. And Moore once again plays an adulterous spouse, as in The Kids Are All Right and Chloe, but invests Emily with enough heartfelt nuance to make her stand on her own as a fully realized character. At long last, Moore has figured out how to play comedy. Gosling unleashes the full and terrible wrath of his genetic perfection as Jacob, playing the character straight without judging or mocking him.

Stone is the perfect foil, bringing her trademark wit and timing to her performance as Hannah. Analeigh Tipton, whom I will always know best as a semi-finalist on America’s Next Top Model, acquits herself nicely in the plum role of Jessica. There are definitely a few scenes toward the beginning where you can sense her thinking, “Act! Act!,” but she has some sweet moments. Tyra is presumably thrilled to seize credit for her imminent stardom. Marisa Tomei chews the scenery in the same kind of crazy putty supporting role she always plays in studio romantic comedies.

I think I’m being hard on CSL because I’d allowed my expectations to get a bit higher than they should have been. Goddamn Entertainment Weekly has been talking about it for months in the hushed tones they usually reserve for something Buffy-related. Also, it has a stupid name (literally, I guess). But you could certainly do much worse when picking a summer movie at the multiplex. The film balances its three storylines with nimble exuberance; I remained excited as it switched back and forth, regardless of the tiredness of its script, just because I was so thrilled to see each actor do their thing. And it really does have several disarmingly piercing moments. It is not a great film, but it’s one of the better films this summer.

Read Also:

Previous post:

Next post: