July 29, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Crazy, Stupid, Love.

ROMANCE/COMEDY:

United States, 2011

U.S. Release Date:

2011-07-29

Running Length:

1:58

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Profanity, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

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

Director:

Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Screenplay:

Dan Fogelman

Cinematography:

Andrew Dunn

Music:

Christophe Beck, Nick Urata

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


Crazy, Stupid, Love. tries to rise above the unremarkable level of the generic romantic comedy. In almost every way, from structure to tone to the nature of the love stories, it strives to be more. And, while all its gambits are not successful, the movie is sufficiently different (within a familiar framework) to earn a recommendation. This is not the ultimate romantic comedy - the one that makes you fall as hard for the characters as they do for one another while savoring their every interaction - but it seems fresher and less recycled than much of the product out there.

[Whoever punctuated the title is either trying to send a message (which escapes me) or is illiterate. Considering the education level of some of the people working in Hollywood, it's a 50/50 proposition. To avoid confusion, I will hereafter refer to the movie simply as Crazy Stupid Love, leaving out the commas and period.]

Crazy Stupid Love is an ensemble not unlike Love, Actually but with a smaller group of characters and firmer narrative connective tissue. One problem is that the script favors certain individuals over others, resulting in screen time inequities for the various romances. There are instances when Crazy Stupid Love focuses exclusively on one couple for a long stretch of time before seemingly remembering that the story isn't only about them. Whether this is a flaw in Dan Fogelman's screenplay or in the way co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa interpreted it, it gives the movie an uneven, jumpy flow and can be frustrating for viewers who care most about the characters who vanish for lengthy periods of time.

The one constant is Cal (Steve Carrell), a man whose 25-year marriage to high school sweetheart Emily (Julianne Moore) collapses during one horrible evening when she makes two pronouncements: (1) she has slept with another man (Kevin Bacon), and (2) she wants a divorce. Shellshocked, Cal moves out of the house and begins spending his evenings in a cocktail longue, looking but not touching. There, he meets lady's man Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who decides to take the pathetic middle-aged guy under his wing. He whirls Cal through a makeover montage (not quite as good as the spending spree in Joe vs. the Volcano), teaches him the ropes when it comes to picking up women, then turns him loose. Cal's first score is a wild, sexy teacher named Kate (Marisa Tomei), but she's only the first of many. Cal also unwittingly becomes involved in a romantic triangle featuring his 17-year old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), and his 13-year old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo). Jessica harbors a secret crush on Cal while Robbie's feelings for Jessica are less concealed. Meanwhile, Jacob finds himself hooked on a sassy redhead named Hannah (Emma Stone); he craves her, but she's having no part of him.

Crazy Stupid Love offers two messages. The film espouses the concept that everyone has a single soulmate and the objective in life is to find that person and build a life with them. This being a romantic comedy, it's not hard to mix and match the appropriate men and women. Hint: neither Kevin Bacon nor Marisa Tomei ends up with a partner. The movie also emphasizes that more than love is necessary for a long-term relationship to work and, even among the most devoted couples, routine and a lack of passion can dry things up. (Oddly, this is also a central theme in The Change-Up.) The Cal/Emily dynamic is unusual for romantic comedies and, based on the screen time accorded to it, is more important to the filmmakers than the other relationships. Having middle-aged, married leads represents a box office challenge, but those qualities are what make Cal and Emily interesting. They're well past the Honeymoon Phase. Their love has fired in the kiln of a quarter century of togetherness. They have far more at stake than the usual rom-com protagonists. The Jacob/Hannah pairing is a throw-in for twentysomethings and the dance between Jessica and Robbie is for teens.

In keeping with his recent career trajectory toward more serious roles, Steve Carrell is allowed to play Cal mostly straight, with the character presented sympathetically rather than as the butt of a barrage of easy jokes. It wouldn't be a challenge to transform Cal into a caricature, but that would undermine the movie. Julianne Moore is a beautiful woman and she gives a lovely, nuanced performance that exhibits different levels of pain and regret. It would be fair to say that Moore and Carrell have chemistry, but it's deeper and more fertile than the combustible type that exists between most romantic comedy couples. Carrell and Moore are surrounded by interesting actors. Neither Ryan Gosling nor Emma Stone shines here, but they fill their roles of the young, madly-in-love couple with aplomb. They are attractive and likeable, and that's how it's meant to be. Relative newcomers Analeigh Tipton and Jonah Bobo effectively navigate the choppy waters of a potentially reciprocated crush between a 13-year old and his babysitter. Finally, Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei make the most of their limited screen time, injecting straight comedy into a movie that occasionally comes close to losing its sense of humor.

That humor rarely rises above the level of mild amusement. There is an exception - a brilliantly executed instance of screwball comedy - but a lot of the jokes are buried in a surprisingly thick layer of melodrama. Warner Brothers' marketing department cherry-picked some of the sharpest lines for the trailer, but (in a reversal of what's often true) they aren't as funny in context. Crazy Stupid Love's uncertain marriage of dramatic elements with comedic ones contributes to the uneven flow. Fortunately, the actors and the emotions they convey are believable enough for this to succeed as a good-natured, feel-good diversion.

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