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Monday, August 1, 2011

Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

* * *

Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone

Not many movies combine sweetness and cynicism as well or as winningly as Crazy, Stupid, Love. This is a movie that knows the score when it comes to relationships and their complications, that doesn't count on romantic illusions, but still has the audacity to hope for them. With a strong screenplay by Dan Fogelman and a fantastic cast of actors, Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of the rare delights of the post-summer blockbuster, pre-autumn Oscar bait part of the movie season.

Steve Carell stars as Cal, who believes that he's in the 25th year of a happy marriage but is informed as the film starts that the marriage is unhappy and he's simply failed to notice it. His wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), blurts out over dinner that she wants a divorce and then tells him that she slept with her co-worker, David (Kevin Bacon), a revelation which prompts Cal to open his car door and drop out as the vehicle is in motion. Cal moves out and begins frequenting a bar where he attracts the attention of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a player who goes home with a different woman every night and takes pity on Cal's lack of game.

Cal is uncertain about Jacob's attempts to make him over but begins to come around when he finds that it actually works (though it backfires on him later). Meanwhile, Emily struggles to decide whether she actually wants to pursue a relationship with David, try to make things work with Cal, or simply strike out on her own; Emily and Cal's 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is trying to figure out how to convince his 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), that they're soulmates, an idea she resists for several reasons, including that she has a crush on Cal; and Jacob meets Hannah (Emma Stone), who makes him rethink his way of life.

Crazy, Stupid, Love has several different plot threads, each with its own specific comic energy, and all of which brilliantly dovetail in the film's climax. Admittedly, when a big revelation is made during this scene I at first thought it was a bit cheap and a little too dependant on coincidence/contrivance, but it ends up paying off well enough that it can be forgiven. The characters are well-developed and their conflicts feel natural and have some actual depth.

The characters are designed to fit the strengths of the actors, most of whom play variations on characters they've played before. Carell's Cal is an understated sad sack, Stone's Hannah is a sparkplug who is just awkward enough to be endearing and usually just a little bit more intelligent than whomever she's interacting with, and Moore's Emily is the grounding force, complex, uncertain, and funny, but not in a showy way. It's to the film's credit that though we've seen these actors play characters very like these ones before, it never feels derivative here. The real surprise, though, is Gosling, who isn't exactly known for comedy (unless you count Lars and the Real Girl or the '90s TV show Breaker High, a show about high school on a cruise ship which was pretty much as awesome as it sounds), but matches Carell and later Stone note for note. He also manages to keep Jacob from seeming creepy, although, in the final analysis, he's helped somewhat in that regard by Tipton, who ends the film by doing something supremely creepy and probably illegal.

Although Crazy, Stupid, Love isn't quite as subversive as it likes to play at being, it does depend more on realism than your average romantic comedy. The ending is happy, but also ambiguous, admitting that sometimes you just don't know how things will work out no matter how much effort you make or how badly you want it. This is definitely a movie worth seeing.

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