118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” isn’t just about cheating. It IS a cheat.
But if you can buy its improbable premise, its jarring and sudden shifts in tone and its desperate desire to be all things to all people, you may find moments of real substance here.
It helps that this romantic comedy from directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“I Love You Phillip Morris”) features an astonishingly strong cast with several breakout performances.
Suburban husband/dad Cal (Steve Carell) is blindsided when Emily (Julianne Moore), his wife of 24 years, announces she’s been having an affair with a co-worker and wants a divorce.
Sad sack Cal finds himself sitting night after night in a bar bemoaning his fate and watching other people score. An expert in that pursuit is the suave, slick, self-assured Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who goes home every night with a different woman.
The first big implausibility of Dan Fogelman’s screenplay finds Jacob taking on the older man as a sort of charity project. (Why? How come? Welcome to Hollywood’s alternative universe version of reality.)
Under Jacob’s tutelage the bumbling, mopey and romantically inexperienced Cal (Emily has been his one and only sexual partner) gets a makeover, a supply of pickup lines and just enough self confidence to snag a one-night stand with a mature woman on the prowl (Marisa Tomei).
Overnight he becomes a Lothario.
That’s one plot thread. Another involves Jacob’s relationship with a smart, cute young redhead named Hannah (the adorable Emma Stone) whom he finds unbearably alluring precisely because she doesn’t buy his b.s. Hannah takes one look at his impossibly ripped abs and accuses Jacob of Photoshopping himself.
So while the older guy is starting to behave like an oversexed teen, the younger guy is feeling his first stirrings of genuine love.
Back at the old homestead Emily is dealing with her office squeeze (Kevin Bacon). Her and Cal’s 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is both struggling with his parents’ breakup and with his hopeless love for the family’s 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton, a face to keep an eye out for). What the kid doesn’t know is that his beloved Jessica is herself smitten with his dad, Cal.
Okay, so it gets a bit complicated. There are maybe two subplots too many for the film’s own good. A genuinely seasoned filmmaker might be able to keep all these balls effortlessly in the air, but Ficarra and Requa aren’t there yet.
They especially struggle to keep an even keel as the yarn veers sharply from the sad to the ribald, physical farce to witty repartee. It’s like being kissed and slapped at the same time.
The saving grace here is a cast that makes it work.
Carell is the rare actor who can make melancholy funny. Gosling, whom I’ve never really thought of as sexy, transforms himself as the matter-of-factly predatory
Stone is a fantastic comedienne — funny and sexy and whip smart. Check out her seduction scene with Gosling…it’s a minor classic.
Newcomers Tipton and Bobo steal scenes without even trying, and Moore is so empathetic as Emily that despite her transgressions we can’t dismiss her character as a villain.
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” has one of the slyest reveals of any recent film, a third act development that takes several of the plot threads and neatly binds them together.
Or perhaps it’s not so neat. The film’s afterglow is quickly dissipated by the realization that we’ve been had, that the screenwriter cheated by hiding some pretty basic information.
It’s like watching a family sitcom and then having somebody casually announce that when he’s not watching TV Dad is President of the United States. Uh…isn’t that kind of important?
And the film lost me at the last minute with a terrible BIG SPEECH at the son’s 8th grade graduation ceremony that screams of hack screenwriter contrivance.
| Robert W.Butler