That most conservative of genres, the typical romcom follows formula as blindly as gravity obeys laws. But not Crazy, Stupid, Love which, much like crazy stupid love, is too erratic to play completely by the rules. Instead, it's the mild exception that makes, if not for a great movie, then at least for a pleasant surprise. And in the dog days of summer, when the heat soars and standards droop, anything pleasant is a three-star treat.
The opening scene is the push-button ignition for everything that follows, a clear-cut case of love grown lazy and lost. The camera neatly tells the story, peering beneath the tables at an upscale restaurant to find the feet of the long-married couple - hers stylishly shod in pumps, his way too comfortably encased in New Balance sneakers. Once upon a time, Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) were childhood sweethearts. Now, as they peruse the dessert menu, he wants crème brûlée and she wants a divorce. The drive back home pits her chatty need to explain against his stunned silence. After all, she remains his "soulmate" and the only woman he's ever known. For him, the romance never ended; for us, the comedy is set to begin.
Indeed, back at the house, love lost gives way to love unrequited. Seems Robbie their 13-year old son has a massive crush on Jessica the older teenage babysitter, an infatuation discovered when she accidentally sees him engaged in a vigorous session of self-pleasure. "I think of you the whole time," he proudly chirps. To complicate matters, Jessica has her own unlikely crush on the entirely oblivious Cal. Meanwhile, over at the hip bar where the jilted hubby will soon repair to drown his sorrows, every lovely in the place has a crush on Jacob the ladies' man (Ryan Gosling), a bespoke Casanova who scores so easily it takes the contest right out of the game. His only strike-out is with Hannah (Emma Stone), a graduating lawyer whose boyfriend embodies that other grade of love - not crazy and stupid but tepid and safe.
Well, already you can see that the ensemble cast is crowded and the script, bouncing from entanglement to entanglement, is awfully busy. However, with a few notable exceptions, co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa adroitly navigate the thickets. Some of their paths are conventional, like the one that sees Jacob meeting Cal in the bar, taking pity on him, and then ushering in the inevitable makeover montage - new duds, new do and, after a few false steps, a hot night with Kate the horny teacher (a hyper Marisa Tomei, chewing more than the scenery). Standard too is the classic recognition scene, initially enlivened by a nifty twist but soon deadened under a thick layer of physical shtick, just the usual forced hilarity.
Yet scattered among the miscues are those pleasant surprises. The biggest is this: Frequently, the zaniness stops and some genuinely impressive acting breaks out. The accomplished Moore is an obvious candidate and, even in a confined role, she delivers - here a nervous look, there a tender gesture. Cast against type, his customarily troubled characters, Gosling is all dressed up (and occasionally undressed) in a fashion guaranteed to set hearts aflutter. But the guy is too skilled to settle for a hunky stereotype; rather, he rescues the roué from cliché by adding a certain delicacy, a repressed yet palpable sensitivity. Watch him in the set-piece with the suddenly aggressive Hannah, where he makes Jacob's transition from seducer to seduced wonderfully, and wittily, credible. And listen too, because Stone's aural signature is there to enjoy: that deep, barking, infectious laugh.
Although not in their performing league, Carell is blessed to have a faint hint of Buster Keaton in his otherwise handsome face - a mug whose deadpan stare is fraught with comic nuance. Even the kid actor is a cut above here. Jonah Bobo brings to Robbie that adolescent knack of travelling at warp speed from deep cynicism to idealistic innocence. Sure, the dull climax brings us back to earth and, bouncing about as it does, Crazy, Stupid, Love seems at times like a bunch of movies searching for an identity. Happily, some of them are actually worth watching.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
- Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
- Written by Dan Fogelman
- Starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore
- Classification: PG