As I left a matinee screening of Crazy, Stupid, Love (showing here in the Fort) with a friend who was visiting for the weekend, I asked her what she thought of the star-studded romcom. After a pause, she replied, “There’s a lot going on.” You ain’t just whistling Dixie, sister. Outside of M. Night Shyamalan, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie work so hard to earn a plot twist, and, thankfully unlike Shyamalan’s later work, strive not to sacrifice character in order to do so. The result was a mixed bag of nuts. Pun intended.
The film lives up to its titular premise, that love makes us all act like idiots, by having the various players—Steve Carell as cuckolded husband Cal; Julianne Moore playing his dissatisfied wife and childhood sweetheart Emily; their son Robbie (Jonah Bobo, doing his best Marcus Brewer impersonation from About a Boy); former America’s Next Top Model contestant Analeigh Tipton as his babysitter, Jessica; always appealing Ryan Gosling as Jacob, a Professor Henry Higgins of hotness who makes over Cal in his own image, and Emma Stone, recent law-school grad Hannah and, for the most part, sanity compass of the film—behave in ways that skirt the margins of mental competency.
For me, the most glaring way this conceit played out was the tendency of all the characters to say exactly what they were thinking or feeling the precise moment they were thinking or feeling it. At first I thought it was just awkward exposition; for example, “We’ve been married twenty-five years and you can’t say anything?” Got it—these two have been married for a while. But no, it develops into a full-blown omnipresent character trait that plays as, at best, unanticipated humor (the oft-previewed scene that has Hannah exclaiming that Jacob’s undeniably sick body looks “photoshopped”) and at worst as a sort of emotional Tourette’s (the thirteen-year-old Robbie, after being caught in a private and compromising moment by his crush Jessica, insisting on not only discussing the embarrassment, but letting her know that he fantasized about her). Suffice it to say there’s no such thing as a rhetorical question in this film. It almost manages to make honest and candid communication look like a detriment to a relationship, simply because the audience can end up feeling as uncomfortable as Robbie’s persistent pursuit of Jessica makes her.
The script undergoes some Cirque de Soleil-esque contortions in order to tie together a multiplicity of storylines and love parabolas reminiscent of a Restoration drama. The main narrative details Cal’s despair at, and attempt to compensate for, his wife’s affair with Kevin Bacon’s criminally underwritten David Lindhagen by transforming himself into Jacob’s chick-magnet protégé. Though the two have a comedic chemistry that I wanted more of in the film, this story incorporates some Apatovian disgust at and belittlement of female sexual desire without the irony and sensitivity that Apatow brings to his scripts. I’m mainly thinking of a, to me, extraneous and insulting sub-plot featuring Marisa Tomei that manages to be bad for women, teachers, and the cardinal virtue of honesty. There’s also Robbie’s crush on Jessica, her seemingly out-of-nowhere infatuation with Cal, and Jacob’s befuddled bewitchment by Hannah, apparently the only woman who has managed to resist his trademarked closer line of “Wanna get outta here?”
As usual, Emma Stone comes across as the smartest, savviest, and most self-confident woman on-screen, which made her relationship with Richard (played by Josh Groban, who I’d like to see give acting another try in a more fully realized role) seem even more baffling. Trust me, Hannah wouldn’t put up with Richard for a second. I was also left wanting more exploration of how Hannah transforms Jacob from a solipsistic playboy into a lovesick boyfriend now seeking advice from Cal on how to treat a woman in rooms other than the one in which his bed is located. The payoff the script labors to produce from these disparate and complex relationships is explosive, surprising, and funny, but not completely satisfying. It lands somewhere between Crash and Magnolia.
Though I was hoping Crazy, Stupid, Love would rise above the sum of its parts (which include Love Actually, Hitch, Peggy Sue Got Married, and the “do the opposite” episode of Seinfeld), I think it ends up being pretty much equal to it. With an unquestionably significant Ryan Gosling’s abs remainder.