' ' Cinema Romantico: Crazy, Stupid, Love

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore), husband and wife, though currently separated, sit in the hallway, a little ways apart, of their son's school, waiting their turn for a parent/teacher conference. They fall into a conversation that is at first slightly uneasy but slowly transitions into something more real, more heartfelt. But then the teacher appears. It is Miss Tafferty (Marisa Tomei) and we and Cal quickly realize she doubles as the woman with whom he engaged in a one night stand several scenes back and purposely neglected to call. Miss Tafferty drags them in for the parent/teacher conference anyway and casts aside discussing their son to explicitly discuss Cal and the infinite idiocy of men in general. This inevitably leads to the truth emerging and Emily barging out and Cal chasing her down and the two of them having a sincere argument, an argument that just so happens to take place in front of all the teachers and all the parents just as it's about to - you guessed it - pour rain.

"Crazy, Stupid, Love" has a mind to be taken seriously, as the first portion of that sequence shows, except it often becomes dependent on typical romantic comedy crutches, as the second portion of that sequence shows, and winds up staring itself down, wanting to be taken seriously in the context of an uproarious comedy, as the third portion of that sequence shows. Naturally this makes for an uneven, though often entertaining movie, that comments on and embraces and (all too) occasionally discards the mechanics of the kind of movie it fully knows it is. More than anything, though, it's saved by two standout performances.

After Emily asks for a divorce from her high school sweetheart in the face of cheating with a leech (Kevin Bacon) from her office, Cal retreats to a posh bar/club where David Beckham-lite Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) who apparently, improbably averages taking home about 3 women per night (not sure how that works) overhears this soon-to-be-divorcée whining to anyone within earshot of his plight. Thus, Jacob decides to take Cal under his wing, upgrade his wardrobe and teach him the finer points of "the game". In a way, Cal is kind of like what might have happened to Carell's "40 Year Old Virgin" if he'd wound up separated from Catherine Keener and having to start all over again.

Meanwhile Jacob has his own romantic entanglement to pursue in the form of Hannah (Emma Stone), a tough-as-nails about-to-be lawyer who has no interest in Jacob or "the game", until her requisite Boyfriend She Would Never Date If This Was Real Life (Josh Groban) fails to propose at which point she seeks out Jacob which leads to a more genuine courtship than she ever expected.

The third bit of business in this nearly 2 hour film is Cal and Emily's 13 year old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) being lovesick for his 17 year old babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) who, as it turns out, is lovesick for the much, much older Cal. Complications and hijinks ensue.

All parties involved do good enough work, though the screenplay by Dan Fogelman definitely focuses more on the male aspects than the female aspects, a fault of scads of screenplays, but Gosling stands out in the predictable role of The Douche With The Heart Of Gold. Look, from the second he sits down in his brilliantly cut Italian (I'm assuming) suit and councils Cal about nutting up and shutting up - "Are you in or are you out?" - everyone knows the script will get flipped and his stylin' Jacob will be revealed as decent and desperate to change up his There's Always More Fish In The Sea outlook on life. Gosling, though, cleverly keeps the core of the character the same throughout and just adjusts his demeanor a few degrees here and there in accordance with his maturation. Arcs of these sorts in these sorts of movies are too often all at once and unbelievable but with such nuance it's virtually undetectable, Gosling creates the least broad character despite playing the most broad role. Skillz, baby.

And that brings us to the ever-magnificent Marisa Tomei in a small part as a delightfully unhinged teacher who in but a few brief scenes suggests a life always in danger of careening off the rails that nevertheless still somehow manages to stay on that track. Miss Tafferty is in serious need of her own spinoff with a tougher script and, believe me, Marisa would leave Cameron and her wannabe "Bad Teacher" sinking pathetically in quicksand. Alas, 'tis but a dream.

The conclusion works in not only one Big Speech but two Big Speeches, overlapping one another (and suggesting that psychologically Cal may be more than a little selfish in the way he usurps his son's moment), and so "Crazy, Stupid, Love" settles, as it must, for a belief in eternal love and soulmates. Unless, of course, you're poor Miss Tafferty. But then never mind her. She's merely rom com collateral damage.


Anonymous said...

Good review. Overall, the film is too conventional for my liking. It needed to be sharper, wittier, and funnier. But for average summer fare, it’s okay. It’s far from perfect and runs on the long side, but rom-com and chick flick lovers will likely be satisfied.

Andrew K. said...

This is one of those movies which reveals its issues to me and make me want to write a thesis on cinematic inconsistencies (the most exasperating of which seems to be the indication that once Steve gets spruced and better dressed Julianne has no reason to be bored with their "marriage" anymore and I mean WTF?) and all the actors are unnecessarily charming and Gosling is the standout and Tomei is unfortunately underused, but it gets a bit annoying even if it's pleasant for the most part.

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks for reading, gents, and you both seem to summarize quite well its maddening inconsistencies. Which are all the more maddening because there was potential, I think, for something more.

And Andrew, you should write that thesis. I'll read it.

Derek Armstrong said...

It's funny, I agree with everything you wrote and yet this is still (for now) in my top 10 of the year. I think that probably says something about the fact that I didn't really go for the movies most people seemed to love (The Tree of Life, Drive, Midnight in Paris, The Descendants), but it also speaks to the fact that even with all the faults you list, I felt very, very happy after watching this movie. You're right when you say (at least I think you say) that it exists simultaneously as both a winking criticism of standard rom-com structures, and a textbook example of rom-coms with said structures. Somehow, the combination works for me.

However, given the bunch of good movies I've seen recently, I guess I'll have to think long and hard about whether it really belongs in my top ten before I finalize my 2011 rankings a week from today.

Castor said...

Good review Nick. I enjoyed Crazy Stupid Love but it wasn't as good as the trailer suggested. The cast really keeps this watchable, even despite that terribly corny ending.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this review, Nick! With having so many girlfriends who loved this movie, it's hard to suggest to any of them any of the major flaws you so well pointed out. The movie definitely focused more on the males' perspectives and characters. I would agree that the pairing between Emma Stone and Josh Groban lacked all chemistry possible, although I'm not sure if that was SUPPOSED to be the case or not. As all rom coms go, there was a chase scene, a fight scene, and a big, laborious speech scene (agh!). Steve Carell fits this genre well because he so capably can play a realistic character (and a total funny guy in all the other stuff he's dabbled in, such as The Office). It was a nice break-out movie for Gosling to show he has other talents aside from romancing Rachel McAdams. Drive (which I haven't seen yet) and Ides of March were only MORE evidence of that.

Nick Prigge said...

Castor: The ending is corny, isn't it? I mean, TWO big speeches! At once! I'd never seen that!

Kristin: Thank you! Yeah, the Stone/Groban thing, and that happens in so many rom coms, confuses me. They want her character to be likeable but they pair her off with this guy it's so obvious she would never date. It frustrates me.

You should definitely check out "Drive" too, for something completely different from Gosling. He can do it all.

Nick Prigge said...

Vance: "that it exists simultaneously as both a winking criticism of standard rom-com structures, and a textbook example of rom-coms with said structures."

Yes, that's what I was trying to say, in a roundabout way. Which is a really, really interesting idea that I personally felt it only half-successfully pulled off.