Crazy, Stupid Love.

A lot of people ask me if there are any romantic comedies I actually enjoy.  As a guy who was raised on a steady diet of comic books and snarky counter culture programming, there are a few but its hard for romantic comedies to get any real traction with me.  Most of them are a tangled mess or false logic and improbable situations.  With any film, I can buy the absurdity of a concept as long as the characters and their behavior is real.  But when characters are motivated by the simple need to move the plot forward instead of genuine emotion, it makes it impossible for me to care.  The formulaic nature of the romantic comedy has spiraled into a place in which every man is a cheat, every woman dives into the deep end of the false logic pool and cynicism reigns supreme.  Look at Reese Witherspoon‘s character in How Do You Know or any of the dreck Katherine Heigl puts out.  Ideally, in a romantic comedy, we should all find ourselves pining for the main characters just a little bit, seeing in them what we hope to one day find in the great loves of our lives.  But when all of the woman are bitchy shrews and all of the men are distant and don’t seem to have any interest in love, its hard to commit emotionally to the idea of romance. What happened to movies like When Harry Met Sally… where the characters were likable, had justifiable logic for their emotional arches and circumstance was ultimately their biggest adversary?

Thats where Crazy, Stupid, Love. comes in like a hot mess.  Its emotionally crippled, cynical and features characters who have no real understanding of what love is about.  Normally that would be a bad thing, but the brilliance of this movie is that all of those faults are built in so that the characters can take an emotional journey to overcome these shortcoming in themselves and return a little faith in the idea of romance to its audience.  It isn’t a perfect movie by any standard, but it does seem less generic and much more inventive then most of the nonsense out there.

The constant in this ensemble comedy is Cal (Steve Carell) who’s twenty five year marriage to high school sweetheart Emily (Julianne M0ore) comes crashing down one night when she blurts out at dinner that she has been having an affair with a coworker (the very smooth Kevin Bacon) and wants a divorce.  Cal is clearly caught off guard by this pronouncement and immediately moves into his own apartment, spirals into depression and begins sharing his sorrows with anyone who will listen in a local cocktail lounge.  It is in this bar that Cal meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), the ultimate ladies man.  Night after night, Jacob zeroes in on the prettiest girls in the bar and within five minutes finds himself wearing them on his arm like a trophy. The only exception is a sassy redhead named  Hannah (Emma Stone) who sees him for what he is and wants no part of it.  Jacob decides to share his gift with Cal, telling him that he lost his wife because he lost sight of what it is to be a man.  In a series of scenes that feel like a bit like the Fight Club equivalent of a makeover, Jacob teaches Cal what it is to be a man on the prowl before setting him loose in the bar.  Cal has a few flings, most notably with a teacher named Kate (Marisa Tomei, who sadly, due to the PG-13 rating, doesnt get naked), but through his conquests discovers that Emily is the only woman he really loves.  Meanwhile, Cal’s seventeen year old babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) develops a secret crush on him which presents a huge obstacle for Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) who believes Jessica is his soul mate and has no problem saying it to anyone and everyone.

The cast in this movie is a big part of why it works.  Julianne Moore manages to perfectly capture the pain and frustration of a woman who feels trapped in a relationship that has stalled.  Carell, while sweet and innocent, helps to reinforce this with some of his behavior which goes a long way towards keeping either of them from coming off like the villain.  The dance between Jonah Bobo and Analeigh Tipton almost veers into a creepy territory a few times but stays mostly cute through the innocence portrayed by the two young actors.  The real winners for me though are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.  Gosling’s performance as Jacob seems a bit like an over the top cameo in the beginning and, in many ways, it is.  But through the no-nonsense demeanor of Stone’s Hannah, he manages to pull away all the nonsense of his gamesmanship and find romantic redemption.

The nice thing about Crazy, Stupid, Love. is that although there isn’t a lot of depth to the characters, the film seems to care about them and see their problems as more then just a backdrop for broad and uninteresting comedy.  These people struggle and the interesting thing is that the biggest issue most of them face is their own ignorance in the ways of love.  Each character holds a piece of the love puzzle and it isn’t until they all come together that it starts to make sense to any of them.  The film (smartly) doesnt pander to either sex which makes it an enjoyable experience for both men and women.  Innocence and cynicism go to war many times in this movie as the characters try to discover how to make the love in their lives work and neither is really the victor.  Instead, the audience is treated to a marriage of the two that is kind enough to treat us all with a little sweetness but smart enough not to talk down to us.

RATING:  8/10

~ by Andrew Craig on August 1, 2011.

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