Crazy, Stupid, Love is the romantic comedy I’ve been waiting all summer for. Not necessarily that I’ve been anticipating this specific movie, but what the final result represents; a gentle, clever comedy about people we like, sympathize with, and root for. There’s no excessive hostility aimed at the characters or the instituiton of marriage, and the ultimate message is surprisingly optimistic and, dare I say, romantic. It has as many flaws as a loaded baked potato has bacon bits, but here’s a movie that’s actually appropriate for a date night, provided you don’t think too hard on it the next morning.
The script by Dan Fogelman is both an ally and enemy of the film. What he’s put together here is a branching view of several individuals trying to make a go of this whole love thing. Some of them, like Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore), are married. Others, like Cal and Emily’s son Robbie, are finding love for the first time, in his case with his 17 year old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who is too busy crushing on his dad to care about the awkward declarations of a thirteen year old.
One night, Cal and Emily discover over dinner that their mutual spark is flickering, poised to whiff out. Cal moves out when he learns Emily had an affair with a coworker, David (Kevin Bacon), and goes to a cocktail lounge where he starts a new relationship; a friendship of sorts with Jacob (Ryan Gosling) a pick-up artist who has honed his skill to a shark’s precision. Jacob takes the sad-sack Cal under his wing, reinvents him, and instead of pointing him back towards his wife—who he clearly misses and longs for—aims him at a bevy of emotionally vulnerable women lurking around the lounge. There’s another relationship too, between the calculating Jacob and the sweet, smart Hannah (Emma Stone) who spurns his transparent advances until one day, there he is, legitimately in love and all of that without even having slept with her.
These threads advance the central narrative of Crazy Stupid Love and they all do eventually intertwine with one another, although in more specific and surprising ways than a character-heavy ensemble like Love, Actually or Valentine’s Day might. The characters and their issues are front and center here, and one of the virtues of having several different viewpoints is that we get to perceive Cal and Emily’s marriage—the most focal of the relationships—from many different angles. What Jacob understands about the situation is filtered through what he thinks he knows about Cal, and what Cal tells a fiery, loopy school teacher (Marisa Tomei) he meets at the lounge returns later to inform the internal state of his heart towards his wife. Even Kevin Bacon’s snaky adulterer is significant because he’s not a simple villain, but just a guy who allowed himself to romance and ensnare a woman who was already wandering away from things at home. Now he’s in the middle, and not completely sure what to make of it. There are no excuses made for him, as there are none for Jacob’s womanizing in the first half, but both are so wonderfully acted that we see them as people and it makes everything resonate more deeply.
The problems with the script come down to a tension between trying to give us believable people and scenarios and simultaneously meeting the demands of the romantic comedy template that requires a certain number of asinine misunderstandings, meet cutes, false dawns, and big speeches. Realistically, its hard to force organic characters, once created and breathing onscreen, into the little boxes the plot has made for them. The actors, which turn out to be the real saving grace of the film, refuse to surrender and give us people we can put our sympathy in even when their actions don’t feel completely genuine.
Gosling and Carell make a good comic team, and Gosling and Stone are absolutely delightful together—their reenacting of one of the dumbest moments of cinema history is probably my favorite scene of the movie. Clearly, they are having the time of their lives. Tomei is unfortunately underutilized, but she’s so good she makes her scenes stand out with her bubbly, vibrant energy. You can put Tomei in just about anything and she’d be able to illuminate it. My favorite character, surprisingly, is Robbie and Jonah Bobo, seen previously in Favreau’s Zathura, is consistently funny when playing off his adult counterparts. He’s one of the few young talents to understand what precocious actually means.
Most problematic for me is the script’s inability to recognize some of its own ickiness, particularly in the convenient placement of model Tipton (who is actually only days younger than Emma Stone) as a teenage girl tempted to take racy pictures for the man she babysits for. While Carell’s Cal has no awareness of this crush, his own behavior towards the women he picks up doesn’t feel right, even for a guy dealing with a broken heart. I believe he would seek solace in the arms of other women, but I don’t believe he’d actually take Jake’s advice to the point of actually hurting them. There’s also the unfortunate state that Moore’s Emily is mostly seen as a confused shrew, only the actresses’ innate warmth and timing saving her from being seen as simply shallow.
There are revelations, twists, betrayals, alliances, and hopeful moments of reconciliation. There are enough of these in fact, it could have been a Shakespeare play with a few rewrites and some onscreen death. Much of it works and gains a sincerity because of the likability of the cast and how the film lets us feel about them. In the moment, Crazy Stupid Love soars, giving you that warm, sweet sense of adoration. It’s only the morning after that might give you second thoughts, and all of that could have been avoided if there had been a more honest screenplay to support it.
No matter, it’s a minor quibble for a film that gets so much right, and gives us what we tend to want most out of the movies; a couple of hours with the lives of people we find interesting . Fans of the romantic comedy, you can come back out of hiding and husbands, you needn’t fear Crazy Stupid Love. It’s a movie about couples, made for them. What a concept.