Crazy Stupid Love is a sweet romantic comedy that knows the side effects of it’s heartfelt emotional subject matter all too well. Love can make us crazy and love can make us act stupid… and these all too familiar reactions and more to falling “head over heels” for the opposite sex are charmingly presented with intelligent humor and substance.
Steve Carell leads an impressive cast that includes Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Kevin Bacon and a dazzling Emma Stone in a film that explores the joys, bumps, obstacles and heartache that can occur when seeking to find, or hold onto… the ever elusive and rarely obtained romantic brass ring that we all refer to as a soulmate.
Carell plays Cal, a mild-mannered 40-something family man who believes his life spent married to his high school sweetheart is going along just fine. That is, until over a night out at dinner, his wife Emily ( Julianne Moore ) abruptly blurts out that she wants a divorce. To add insult to injury, she nervously confesses to having a one-night stand with one of her co-workers.
It’s an abrupt divorce announcement scene we’ve seen before in many films, but the direction in which this breakup leads has a few unexpected twists and turns along the way. Not the least of which is how Cal and Emily return home to their kids and the baby sitter and a still stunned Cal, bruised physically and emotionally by jumping out of the couple’s car on the ride home, almost nonchalantly announces to all they’re getting divorced.
Cal soon moves out and finds himself spending time night after night at a local trendy bar, boring the patrons with his tale of genuine heartbreak and woe. To add insult to already formidable injury, Cal’s friend Bernie ( John Carroll Lynch ) shows up in the bar to tell him his wife has demanded they choose sides in the break-up… and Bernie reluctantly has to dump his friend because his wife says they have to support Cal’s soon-to-be ex wife.
Meanwhile, watching Cal metaphorically crying in his beer in the bar from a short distance over several nights is thirty-something ladies man and proud romantic player, Jacob ( Ryan Gosling ). Jacob, for reasons never convincingly explained, takes pity on, and an interest in, Cal’s sad plight and makes it his mission to transform the poor guy from a defeated, self-pitying schlub into a stylish, sharp-dressed player with the ladies.
Jacob not only revamps Cal’s wardrobe of sneakers and baggy jeans into GQ style proportions; but also, he takes Cal through an “on the job” training mission in the bars to observe Jacob’s confident player technique that charms the women without fail… and each lesson ending with Jacob taking a new woman home with him each night to bed.
Meanwhile, Emily continues at work and at home tentatively accepting the interest of her one-nighter office co-worker, David ( an effectively smarmy Kevin Bacon ) while at the same time, conflicted about her new freedom away from the man she’s lived with for half her life.
Also, Cal and Emily’s 13-year old son, Robbie ( Jonah Bobo ) is having romantic issues of his own. He is desperately in love with his 17-year old baby-sitter, Jessica ( Analeigh Tipton ) while she is experiencing a sympathetic crush on Robbie’s dad, Cal.
Back at the bar scene, Jacob’s lessons start to pay off for Cal as he clumsily manages to charm an attractive vulnerable, former alcoholic junior high school teacher, Kate ( Marisa Tomei in a wonderful, scene stealing performance ). Cal’s clumsy honesty and sincerity, which flies in the face of everything Jacob has taught him, only turns Kate on and the two spend the night together; leaving Kate blissfully smitten ( and later scorned ) and Cal with a new sense of confidence which he uses to bed a succession of women… while, still in his heart, pining away for the woman he refers to as his soulmate, his wife Emily.
His connection and need for his former life is so strong, that when not hitting the bar scene; he sneaks home late at night to tend to his lawn and shrubbery while his family sleeps. The newly-minted nightclub player is still a family man at heart.
That in mind, Cal resolves, at the encouragement of his romantic at heart son Robbie, to fight for his soulmate… with the same resolve Robbie plans to fight for his romantic interest in his slightly older baby sitter crush.
Meanwhile, Jacob’s own slick player routine hits a roadblock when he tries it out on a fresh-faced female law student, Hannah ( Emma Stone ). Hannah is unimpressed with Jacob’s come-on lines reacting with amusement and sarcasm. After all, she’s holding out for a fellow lawyer ( Josh Groban ) who apparently doesn’t have a clue that she’s interested in him and anticipating a wedding proposal.
When Hannah’s proposal hopes are dashed by her clueless love interest, she goes back to Jacob’s nightly barroom hangout, and much to his surprise, jumps into his arms in what appears to be simply a reactionary rebound connection.
However, later, much to their mutual surprise, the expected slam-bam, “R-rated” one-nighter turns into a sweet and playful “PG-13” evening of conversation and mutual discovery, tender pillow talk and a genuine growing connection with one another… that yes, includes an effectively saccharine but nice moment where part of Jacob’s seduction technique is to re-enact the climatic dance lift scene from Dirty Dancing with Hannah.
All this genuine tenderness and feeling leads to some degree of confusion for smooth player Jacob, who in an unexpected role reversal, finds himself turning to Cal for advice on how to be in a tender, genuine relationship… instead of the empty lifestyle of instant gratification each night he had grown so skilled and accustomed to by cruising for hot chicks in the bar scene each night.
The subplot involving Cal’s son Robbie’s crush on his older baby sitter; while she in turn is crushing on her employer Cal tends to be the film’s weakest link. In fact, a moment near the film’s end where baby-sitter Jessica tries to get Cal’s attention with some provocative photos of herself borders on territory that seems less romantic and funny… and more on the creepy side.
Indeed, this act leads to a climatic scene near the end where all the parties in the film literally and figuratively collide in a comedy clash of confusion and surprising revelations resulting in a series of hurt and broken feelings.
As with many romantic comedies of this nature, most everything gets ironed out in the end among all involved, more or less. However, “Crazy, Stupid Love” manages to achieve this with a fair measure of sweetness, poignancy and intelligence that manages to overcome it’s few plot flaws via engaging and truly enjoyable characters.
Carell turns in some of his finest work as an improving screen actor, the best since his work in “Dan In Real Life”. He skillfully captures the plight of his romantic rejection with equal parts humor and pathos. Even when Cal finds improved confidence with meaningless one-night stands; you still feel that his heart pines to be with the true relationship and love of his life, his wife. Carrell imparts a convincing vulnerability to make Cal sweetly sympathetic.
Gosling is also first rate as the slick ladies-man Jacob, with enough good-guy potential to make him more than just a shallow one-note lothario once he meets Hannah. Both Gosling and Stone shine in their moments together; as her sweet energy and perkiness helps to make their evolution into eventual soul mates themselves all the more enjoyable and believable.
Moore serves herself well in this film as a woman who seems more conflicted than angry about her break-up from Cal. Her Emily deep down still loves him, though she has a road to travel before eventually realizing that.
Jonah Bobo and Analeigh Tipton as Robbie and his baby-sitter make the best of the material they’re given to work with. Though, it’s Tipton who tends to shine the best in her performance as a young girl experiencing the confusion and heartache of her puppy-love crush on Cal.
Overall, “Stupid, Crazy Love” has it’s cliched flaws here and there. However, there’s enough clever moments and sweet, poignant exchanges to help make this romantic comedy rise above much of the others of it’s genre that tend to clutter the theaters these days.
“Stupid, Crazy Love” is a film that entertains in a warm-hearted way with characters we can enjoy and embrace investing our emotions in.
… and. like Cal and Robbie believe within the film itself… it helps us, in it’s light-hearted, simplistic way, maintain hope that somewhere, there is a true romantic soulmate worth finding and fighting for.
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