Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) are out to dinner. The couple has been married for twenty-five years; high-school sweethearts who’ve got a couple of kids and appear to know one another inside and out. Except for the fact that Emily wants a divorce. Oh, and she cheated on Cal with her coworker David (Kevin Bacon). Plus she’s prone to a few more lies, like going out to movies alone and pretending to be elsewhere. Despite being positive that Emily is his soul-mate, Cal’s now stuck living in an apartment and spending his nights in a trendy bar moping about his problems to anyone willing to lend an ear.
One such person is Jacob (Ryan Gosling), the smooth-talker to end all smooth-talkers. Jacob sports tight clothes, six-(maybe eight or ten)pack abs and an ability to casually convince any woman he wants to come home with him. He also takes a liking to Cal, wanting to rebuild this sad-sack with a cheap haircut, low self-esteem and Velcro wallet into a hot commodity, able to get over his ex-wife and start gathering the ladies by the barrelful.
That is the core plot of Crazy, Stupid, Love, which is a warm, immensely enjoyable movie by the directors of last year’s I Love You Phillip Morris, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra. There are additional stories here, including Cal’s teenage son Robbie (Jonah Boba) falling for his babysitter – four years his elder – and said sitter longing for Cal himself. The script by Dan Fogleman (Tangled, Fred Claus) is genuinely witty, yet a number of these threads are superfluous to the whole matter and occasionally leave little time for the movie’s finest secondary plot; the possible relationship between Gosling’s Jacob and Emma Stone’s Hannah.
These two are electric together. Gosling’s casual cool and Stone’s anxious energy play off each other in a magical manner. Jacob’s found a girl not so easily wooed by his looks and words, while Hannah thoroughly enjoys said gestures, even as she sees through them. A scene where she asks to see his coup de grace maneuver (a lift from a movie loved by countless women) is uproarious, even as it remains intimate.
The evolution of the proposed divorce between Cal and Emily is also engaging, if slightly underdeveloped. It is a movie divorce, where the problems are simplified by merely being a little nicer; nothing deeper. Carell and Moore sell it though; each displaying anguish and yearning that is subtle and heartfelt. A scene around the halfway point is maybe the movie’s best, featuring these two at their best and directors Requa and Ficarra proving their abilities. It’s a simple scene, with people catching up and talking around their issues while waiting to meet their son’s middle-school teacher. Many directors would shoot a simple two-shot, with cutting between each actors face. Requa and Ficarra display the gap between Carell and Moore by pushing them to the outside of the frame and jamming the room-door between, before gently gliding around to reveal more of each actor as they increasingly open up about their feelings. It’s further proof that just because something is often comedic, shooting it like a television sitcom isn’t the sole option.
Leads aside, and they all do excellent work, Maria Tomei may steal the movie. She’s only in several minutes of Crazy, Stupid, Love, but she is brilliantly excitable and bitter in each of them. Her interactions as Cal’s first post-Emily possibility are outrageous in the best meaning of the word.
The only nagging issue is the picture’s occasional “Hollywood” nature. The aforementioned simplicity of Cal and Emily is mildly irksome, as is a late-movie revelation that really adds little, even if it takes up the majority of the last act’s drama. There is a lengthy speech by Cal about the nature of love and fighting for the one you’re meant for that, again, isn’t bad, just lackluster. These are the missteps of a movie that borders on something truly special, keeping it from that rarefied air of a Broadcast News.
Crazy, Stupid, Love opens wide all across Seattle today.