Thursday, August 4, 2011

Danny Wonders About CRAZY STUPID LOVE


- Crazy Stupid Love has a little bit of the quirky humor and wit of comedies like Little Miss Sunshine. But, it also has a lot of the ingredients that comprise your typical romantic comedy. So, if you go into the movie expecting an offbeat, authentic-feeling black comedy, make sure you're prepared for lots of half-baked romances, big speeches, proclamations of undying love, and yes, lots of eye-rolling cheesiness. Still, the cast is so good, and there are enough moments of genuine, good-natured hilarity, that the movie solidly entertained me ... even if I eventually found myself disappointed in how conventional it turned out to be.

At the center of Crazy Stupid Love is Steve Carell as Cal - a 40-something nerd who's only ever had eyes for his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore). The two met in high school, got married young, and have been together ever since. Until now, that is. Because as the movie opens, Emily glumly and bluntly declares to Carell that she wants a divorce. She's having a midlife crisis, of sorts. And the kicker: she slept with her co-worker - the eager-to-please David (the ubiquitous-this-summer Kevin Bacon). Cal drowns his miseries with booze at a local bar, where his drunken rantings attract the attention of Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Jacob is a modern-day version of The Fonz - a too-cool-for-school ladies' man, who decides to take Cal under his wing to remake his image and give the newly-separated guy's dating life a boost. Also in the picture is Hannah (Emma Stone), a twenty-something, recent law-school grad whose life is quickly becoming overly routine, boring, and as her annoying friend keeps reminder her, "PG-13." Hannah intrigues Jacob because she's one of the few girls to reject his advances (at least at first). We also spend some time with Cal's kids, particularly his pre-teen son, Robbie, who's got a hopeless crush on the family's 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica. Jessica, however, has a hopeless crush of her own - on Cal.

As you can imagine, all of these romantic entanglements make for all sorts of standard-issue mixups and miscommunications. There are even a couple of big plot-twists thrown into the mix that make us rethink a couple of key characters and their place in the overall dynamic of the film. Overall, the script does a nice job of juggling all of the various characters and their intersecting stories ... although I did feel like the big twists - one in particular - felt a little cheap and manipulative. Still, the movie crafts several memorable characters who each have their own struggles with life and love.

And really, it's the stellar cast that makes the movie work as well as it does. There's not necessarilly a ton of depth in the script for Carell or Gosling, but both actors bring a certain multidimensional quality that hints at an inner life above and beyond what it's in the dialogue. Carell in particular brings his usual blend of wackiness and pathos to the role of Cal, and really sells a lot of the movie's cheesier moments by making them somehow feel more earned and authentic than they have any right to. And by the way, another scene-stealer in the cast is definitely Marissa Tomei, who never fails to impress me. Tomei brings awesome comic timing to the movie and is a huge scene-stealer - as a woman who Cal manages to pick up with help from Jacob - and it's yet another memorable turn for the seemingly ageless actress.

Still, a lot of the characters feel overly-simplified, and there's only so much that a Julianne Moore or Ryan Gosling can do to help with that. Moore's character, for example ... we're told many times that she is Carell's soul mate, the love of his life - someone he belongs with even though we know she cheated on him with her coworker and asked for a divorce. And yet, we never get much more from Moore, and it's frustrating - characters in the film seem to be rooting for Carell to win her back, but we never really get why. Similarly, Gosling's Jacob feels like too much of a cartoon character. The movie wants us to just buy into the idea that the first woman he meets who he does more than just sleeps with ergo must be *his* soul mate.

It's one of those situations where, as the movie progresses, less and less of it actually feels authentic. It feels too much like screenwriter fantasy - from the broad, overly-convenient plot points to the little details that annoyed me. Maybe it's just me, but I'm getting sick of movies that barely touch on issues of class or money, but it's just accepted that everyone in the film is wealthy and can afford designer clothes and expensive dinners out. There's a brief line in the film where Gosling mentions that he inherited a lot of money from his father, but that's the only point where the movie directly addresses how he can keep up his no-work/lots of play lifestyle. Another example is a wince-inducing gag in the film where Gosling uses the mantra "you're too good for The Gap" to Carell, implying that a bachelor like Carell will only woo a woman if he splurges on high-end clothes. Personally, if I actually saw Carell walking around wearing the "cool" clothes he wears in the film, I'd assume he was a giant douche. It's just one of those things where the movie seems to have only one foot in the real world, but thinks it has two.

And that's why, to me, Crazy Stupid Love really shines when it dares to get silly and crazy. There's a blissfully funny scene towards the end of the movie, for example, where all of the characters and their various dramas collide in a great, madcap scene that had a delightfully Curb Your Enthusiasm-style synchronicity. Similarly, the plotlines involving the respective crushes of Cal's son and teenage babysitter work well and get lots of laughs, because they are absurd and don't feel like they need much justification other than "teenagers are crazy." But whenever the movie tried to feel heartfelt or genuine, it sort of lost me, because it just seemed too cheesy, too contrived, or else just plain off the mark.

I think Crazy Stupid Love is a fairly breezy, entertaining film with a great cast and some very funny moments. But overall, it gave in to too many of the worst tendencies of the rom-com genre, rather than going for something better, funnier, more authentic. The shame of it is that the outstanding cast could easily have pulled off that better version of the film. As it is, they all feel slightly overqualified for what is, essentially, a pretty standard-issue romantic comedy.

My Grade: B

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