Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Multiple Reviews)

Michael Ward’s Review (***)

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is as wonderfully entertaining a film as it is frustrating. There are moments that grab your heart in a genuine and real way and others that clumsily feel around for a pulse. The dichotomy between deciphering what is real and true and what is disingenuous and false does lie at the heart of the film, so thankfully, there are enough good, and on occasion great moments, to carry this across the finish line.  Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You, Phillip Morris), Crazy, Stupid, Love. documents four distinctive storylines which all channel their way through the lives of Cal and Emily Weaver (Steve Carell and Julianne Moore). Married for 25 years, with children, Emily announces that she would like a divorce from Cal, catching him completely off guard as they prepare to order dessert on a dinner date. Emily acknowledges that she is unhappy, has had an affair, and Cal agrees to move out that same night.

A couple of days later, Cal finds himself in a bar and as he downs yet another vodka cranberry, he observes a young, handsome man moving effortlessly from woman to woman. On subsequent nights, the pattern repeats until the lothario of the local bar, Jacob (Ryan Gosling), locks eyes with the schlubby and depressed Cal. After calling Cal over and mentioning that everyone in the bar knows Cal’s story, Jacob decides to reinvent Cal, giving him a Project: Makeover style reboot. The new clothes, look, and haircut give Cal confidence and with Jacob’s nudging approval, he sets out in a brave new world of dating, employing techniques and strategies which never fail for his mentor, Jacob.  Hannah (Emma Stone) is a law school student who is readying herself to take the bar exam and in the eyes of her best friend, Liz (Liza Lapira), she has disappointingly settled for her boring and uninteresting boyfriend, Richard (Josh Groban). Liz cannot stand the fact that Hannah is ready to commit long-term to Richard and after a chance encounter occurs between Hannah and Jacob in that same local bar, Liz senses that Hannah seeks more out of her life.  Finally, Cal and Emily’s son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is 13 and a bright and successful 8th grader, who is hopelessly locked into a crush on his babysitter, the 17-year old Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). Robbie is convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jessica is his soulmate and they are destined to be together. Robbie is obsessed with the love of his life, but Jessica has her sights set elsewhere and has her own unquenchable determination to connect with her soulmate as well.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. covers a fair amount of ground, but the screenplay by Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars 1 and 2, Bolt) finds a weight and a gravitas behind each of these characters. With everyone referenced above, we develop an understanding behind motivations, choices, and potentially damaging decisions. There are moments in Crazy, Stupid, Love. that feel real, tangible, and pure.  Largely this emanates from good to strong performances from virtually all the major players. Carell and Moore are properly uncomfortable in their scenes together, trying to search through their heartbreak to see if the remnants of who they thought they were still exist. Emma Stone continues to impress in a more nuanced turn than her breakout work in 2010’s Easy A. Another terrific performance comes from Analeigh Tipton as the love-struck babysitter, Jessica. To share more of her story would be to reveal some important plot developments, but Tipton has several fantastic moments not only in struggling with Robbie’s obsession, but also in coming to terms with her burgeoning desires.

Anchoring the film is a fantastic performance by Ryan Gosling, who doesn’t just make Fogelman’s vision of Jacob blossom into something above-average, he makes it soar off the screen. Gosling has been consistently one of the finest actors working over the last several years and he continues to show an unparalleled depth and range with the characters he embodies. He is at the center of two powerful scenes in the film – a touching, extended sequence with Stone’s Hannah and a tense talk late in the film with Carell’s Cal.

However, with so much working in the film…Crazy, Stupid, Love. has some troubling flaws in the final 20-25 minutes that are confounding. To see Crazy, Stupid, Love. misfire when it shouldn’t is maddening because similar to a recent romantic comedy, Friends With Benefits, which opts for an unnecessary and mawkish yank at the heartstrings, Crazy, Stupid, Love. devolves into an escalating series of goofiness which stands in stark opposition to the emotional heights the film hits before it.  Watching this tonal shift, I started to turn against the film. A climactic moment occurs at the end of the school year, near the end of the film, which is so patently absurd and disarmingly unnecessary, it feels as if the studio interjected and demanded a Hollywood-style ending. To be brutally honest, I became crazy and stupid in frustration when Fogelman’s screenplay should have reeled me in hook, line, and sinker. In the right conversation, I can tear the film apart easily based on these moments.

And yet, I can’t completely destroy Crazy, Stupid, Love. because if I try to, I cannot ignore how well those first 80-90 minutes play, how wonderful Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell and Julianne Moore and Analeigh Tipton are throughout. How the film succeeded in making me care about characters that I may not give a second thought about in a lesser romantic comedy. And truth be told, I think I really like so much of the film that I can give it a reserved recommendation. That I am not as enthusiastic about the film as I thought I was going to be is a crazy, stupid, disappointment.

 

Joey Magidson’s Review (***1/2)

There’s so much to like about Crazy, Stupid, Love. that it’s very easy to forgive its few faults and just embrace its many strengths.  It’s the rare romantic dramedy that balances out its romance, comedy, and drama in appropriate portions.  If pressed, I’d say that the comedy takes the lead to the romance and drama, but all three are effective when in play.  I laughed at every single joke that writer Dan Fogelman threw at me (they’re pretty much PG-13 jokes, though they get some good mileage out of a masturbation reference…the strength of the humor is based on the truth of love and relationships), and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have cast the film so well that each actor elevates their role and makes their parts memorable.  Add in the fact that lead Steve Carell has never been better, Ryan Gosling shows a strong aptitude for comedy, and both Emma Stone and Julianne Moore do very interesting things with slightly underwritten roles, and this is a movie that’s crazy in a good way, never stupid, and one that I loved.

The flick deals with the many iterations that love can take, while at its core being as much as anything about soul mates.  For Cal Weaver (Carell) his wife Emily (Moore) has shocked him by wanting a divorce.  She slept with a co-worker named David (Kevin Bacon) and doesn’t see her life involving Cal anymore.  Cal responds by beginning to frequent a trendy bar and moping about telling his sob story.  There he runs into the ultimate lady’s man in Jacob Palmer (Gosling), who takes pity on Cal and begins to show him the tricks of the trade.  With a few changes, Jacob has rubbed off on Cal and Cal is like a new man, able to score with a lonely woman named Kate (Marisa Tomei).  At the same time, Cal’s decency and lingering love for Emily may be rubbing off on Jacob, as he’s fallen for Hannah (Stone), the one girl seemingly immune to his charms.  While all this is going on, Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is desperately in love with his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who ironically only has eyes for Cal, not that he’s aware of that, since he still wants to win Emily back, who’s seeing David but seems to not be able to completely let Cal go.  It goes without saying that all of these stories end up coming together, but the filmmakers allow it to occur in a slightly different way than you’d expect (the contrivances mostly eschew feeling like those right out of a sitcom), making the story a level up from most others of its ilk.

When properly cast, Steve Carell is an excellent leading man, and he does his finest work in this film (beating out his charming turns in Dan in Real Life, Little Miss Sunshine, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which are his other acting highlights), mixing in comedy and real emotion to essay a damaged husband and father who’s trying to make sense of his life.  He’s your emotional connection to the film, and he does a great job.  Also doing excellent work, though significantly different than usual for him, is Ryan Gosling.  Known for method dramatic work, Gosling proves a nature for fast talking comedy.  His acting skills come in handy as he grows over the course of the film, making it seem natural (there’s a confidence to his acting that makes him a magnetic screen presence).  Carell and Gosling interact very well together, and whenever Gosling is in the film (which is less than I’d like), things shine.  This is especially true when he has his scenes with Emma Stone, who is cute and quirky, but never a caricature.  Their chemistry is the best in the flick, and I’d have loved to have seen a whole movie of just their relationship developing.  Stone’s role is somewhat underwritten, but she rescues it.  The same can be said for Julianne Moore, but she’s a bit drier of a character.  Marisa Tomei has a smaller part than you’d expect, but she plays it for laughs pretty well.  Kevin Bacon is good, but somewhat unmemorable.  Younger stars Bobo and Tipton contribute well to the film, and the movie features good supporting work from the likes of John Carroll Lynch, Josh Groban, and Joey King as well.  It’s a true ensemble piece, and everyone easily pulls their weight, though Carell, Gosling (who’s the highlight of the film, in my opinion), and Stone stand out.

Ficarra and Requa only recently made their directorial debut on I Love You Phillip Morris, but they know how to make a smooth film.  The pacing is excellent and they handle the changes in tone quite well (it’s a comedy steeped in the pain of love, remember).  They aren’t that flashy, but they have a quiet confidence that benefits this flick.  Dan Fogelman has so far dwelled in kid’s fare (both strong and weak), but this was a hot spec script that shows he’s got more to give than that (a few other scripts of his are about to become movies, so look for more of his work in the coming years), and is definitely an up and coming writer.  What he lacks somewhat in originality here he makes up for with charm, intelligence, and warmth for his characters (the bedroom scene between Gosling and Stone is one of the most witty and engaging exchanges between two characters falling in love that I’ve seen all year).  It’s a very strong script that ranks as one of the better ones of 2011 so far.  I have my doubts about the Academy latching on to it, but I’d like it if they did.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is about as entertaining a date movie as you’re likely to find in theaters this year.  It does have its sitcom-y moments that prevent it from getting my unadulterated love, but I do dig this flick quite a bit.  It has appeal to just about everyone, and it should get some extra credit for not shying away from telling a more adult story than most other entries into the genre.  I highly recommend this movie, as it’s a refreshing bit of cinema.  Give it your support and you won’t be disappointed.  It’s rare that you get a film like this with the cast mostly being middle aged and dealing with marriage, but if they were all as good as this one, I bet we’d see more.  As it stands, Crazy, Stupid, Love. is just about one of the top dozen films of 2011 so far, and deserves your love.