Is there really anything new to say on the subject of love in a romantic comedy? Maybe not, but Crazy Stupid Love tries saying them in a fresh, skewed, and unpredictable manner. I found some moments uncomfortable, some moments far-fetched, and some moments more than a little silly… but all of the moments felt truthful, and the majority of it felt realistic. The wildness of it all seems to be the point of the witty Dan Fogelman script, and directors Ficcara and Requa keep the tempo high, the visuals slick, and let the very talented actors do their parts. The movie’s best when Carell and Gosling are together, as both give great, sensitive comedic performances that boost the film.
Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) asks his wife (Julianne Moore) what she wants when ordering dessert. He says creme brulee. She says a divorce. She slept with a co-worker named David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). He goes to a bar and tells the world his problems. There, he catches the eye of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a ladies’ man who takes Cal on as a charity case, teaching him how to “find his manhood again.” Meanwhile, Jacob meets Hannah (Emma Stone), and he begins to feel something unfamiliar: feelings. All the while, Cal’s son (Jonah Bobo) is certain that his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) is his soulmate, and consistently tries a number of bold gestures to try to win her love, even though she’s four years older than him. Jessica, however, has a secret crush on someone else… Cal.
The teen storyline seems to belong to another film. For one, the idea of the bold romantic gesture seems contrary to the tone of realism that the film for the most part maintains. As someone who once an 8th grader prone to think up grand romantic gestures for girls I liked, I would never have built an entire scaffolding, rigged a curtain to it, taken it to the girl’s high school (how does he transport it?), and revealed myself in front of her entire school. Love is crazy and stupid, but rarely insane and unrealistic. It also gets uncomfortable, in particular when Jessica decides to take naked pictures and send them to Cal. I wasn’t crazy about this sequence, but I admired the film’s honesty (since it happens all the time) in its representation of the modern-day teenage seduction.
The script contains a number of surprises, none of which I will reveal, but the effect of these is twofold: it keeps the film from feeling like it has a fluid flow to it, yet it keeps the film interesting and original. It’s hard to say a film “hits its groove” when it throws curveballs like this film does, but it never gets remotely boring, and for the most part the script uses this sitcommy elements and elevates them with wit. The directors also managed to keep me second-guessing how the film would end… okay, so I knew it’d end happily, but the journey itself remained a mystery, mostly because I was engaged in the character’s activities and the entertaining dialogue. Every character seems to be well-intentioned, even Jacob the player and Lindhagen the cuckolder. A good movie makes you understand where each character comes front, making a situation seem complicated rather than black-and-white.
The performances are all strong. Moore, Bacon, Tomei, and Stone are all high-quality in every film for the most part, and they riff on their usual characters here. Stone I actually felt looked much less pretty than she’s looked in the past– she’s always had girl-next-door looks, but here, she seemed peculiarly out-of-place among the babes Jacob usually hits on, as if they made her dowdier intentionally, though I felt after a while that was the point (emphasis on inner beauty, personality vs. the normal physical standards of attractiveness, etc.). The movie is never better, however, than when Carell and Gosling are on screen. Both characters are fully fleshed out and the actors might never have been more at home. Carell is unsurprisingly great, as this performance is right in his wheelhouse, but Gosling hasn’t really tackled mainstream comedy like this before, and he knocks a grand slam with it. He does Ryan Reynolds better than Ryan Reynolds does Ryan Reynolds, and now has proven that he is the master of nearly every genre and a full-blown movie star. He grabs every eye during Crazy Stupid Love: women want him, men want to be him, and we all want to see him in more comedies with scripts and characters as good as these.