By Linc Leifeste | July 29, 2011
Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo, Joey King, Marisa Tomei, Beth Littleford, John Carroll Lynch, Kevin Bacon, Liza Lapira, Josh Groban
Walking out of the theater I couldn’t help wondering to myself “Steve Carell left The Office for this?” Okay, that probably sounds a bit harsh; Crazy, Stupid, Love isn’t a bad movie. But it’s not a great movie either and it certainly doesn’t meet my expectations or hopes for Carell’s post-Office film career. Filled with implausible and frankly unbelievable plot twists and lacking in adequate character development and depth, this dramedy has some funny moments but simply didn’t work for me on the whole.
The film opens with Cal (Steve Carell) and his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) having a nice (though clearly not romantic) dinner out on the town. Having a hard time making his dessert choice Cal asks Emily if she knows what she wants. Her surprise answer: a divorce! Clearly stunned and devastated, Cal sits in silence on the long car ride home as Emily, seemingly unable to bottle the repressed emotions that she’s been keeping inside, can’t stop talking. Cal’s stunned silence and painful disbelief struck me as a completely sensible response to Emily’s public bombshell but she’s disturbed by Cal’s silence. When she reveals that she has cheated with a co-worker it’s more than he can handle and he warns her that if she doesn’t stop talking he’ll get out of the car. She keeps talking and he opens the door of the still moving car and bails; a strong opening, it grabbed me.
Cal goes along with his wife’s divorce request without so much as a peep, quickly moving into a sad and lonely apartment while allowing Emily to stay in the nice spacious house with both kids (while sneaking into the yard at night to do lawn maintenance, either a creature of habit or a loving soon to be ex-husband), also taking up an evening residence in an upscale singles bar where he drowns his sorrows in cranberry vodkas and endlessly tells complete strangers the sad story of losing his wife to her co-worker David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). It’s not long before another regular at the bar, Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a smooth-talking and impeccably dressed lady-killer, takes pity on sad-sack Cal and decides to take him on as a pet/charity project, a plot development I found implausible, not understanding Jacob’s motivation.
It seems that Jacob loathes just about everything about Cal, from his New Balance sneakers all the way up to his cheap haircut. Most of all, he despises Cal for losing his “manhood,” a loss that he plans to help him remedy. While it’s made clear that passive Cal has been living his life in an absentee manner, the embodiment of the stereotypical middle-aged man floating through life and taking his wife and marriage for granted, if Jacob is the embodiment of modern manliness then paint me uninterested. From his expensive European loafers to his flamboyant and flashy outfits and well practiced pick-up lines, he’s half machismo and half dandy and evidently every woman’s dream (and played to perfection by Gosling). If “manhood” means being independently wealthy thanks to having a successful father and not having to work for a living, freeing you up to devote your days to sculpting your abs in the gym and your evenings to bedding beautiful women, then Jacob’s a man’s man (or maybe a Maxim man).
Between delivering constant insults that are only broken up by not so gentle slaps to the face, Jacob takes Cal clothes-shopping and in no time has him looking equally dapper although it takes a bit longer to get him fully game-ready. After much coaching Jacob eventually lets Cal take a run at a woman sitting alone in the bar. After initially failing using Jacob’s methods, exuding confidence by basically telling the woman how things are going to be, Cal resorts to being himself and in no time is getting busy with Kate (Marisa Tomei) back at his place. Kate, who makes a return appearance later in the film in another plot twist that struck me as implausible, is the second woman Cal has ever slept with, another cause for mockery from Jacob, but is the first of several over the next few weeks. What Cal comes to realize during his time of Jacobian living is that he’s not finding any joy in his newly active sex life, but instead is just missing his wife even more.
And that’s the message at the heart of the movie: True Love is worth fighting for. It’s shown in several storylines: Cal’s love for Emily, their son Robbie’s (Jonah Bobo) love for the family babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) and Jacob’s game-changing love for Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student who he unsuccessfully hits on in an early scene only to have her come back later and steal his heart. The film manages to tie all of these storylines together in effectively surprising but completely unbelievable ways, although in the spirit of not spoiling the plot I’ll reveal no more.
Ultimately, the film’s successes and failures make perfect sense when you consider that Crazy, Stupid, Love combines the writer of such films as Cars, Cars 2, Fred Clause, Bolt, and Tangled (Dan Fogelman) with the directors of I Love You, Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who also wrote Bad Santa). You’ve got such potentially dark topics as a teenage babysitter taking nude pics to give to a married father, but instead of being delved into they’re quickly played off for light-hearted laughs. At times mildly quirky and clever (and well acted throughout), and despite delivering the laughs, ultimately the film relies too much on tired old cliches and unbelievable plot twists to provide any new or valued insights into the subject matter being covered.