Film Reviews

Crazy, Stupid, Love: Not Crazy Enough

In the first scene of Crazy, Stupid, Love, Emily (Julianne Moore) tells Cal (Steve Carell), her high school sweetheart and husband of 20-plus years, that she wants a divorce. She goes on to mention that she had an affair with a co-worker named Dave Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), at which point Cal tells her that he's heard enough. But Emily can't stop talking. "I think I'm having a midlife crisis," she confesses a couple of scenes later, when the now-estranged couple meet again. "Can women even have midlife crises? In the movies, it's always men."

And in this movie too. Would that an actress of Moore's age and talent get a chance to explore an identity crisis in a real way in a venue other than Showtime, but whatever Emily may be going through, it's swiftly pushed to the background. Following Friends with Benefits as the second romantic comedy in as many weeks to ostentatiously point up its awareness of romantic comedy cliche several times over the course of a narrative that ultimately validates far more of those cliches than it deflates, Crazy, Stupid, Love makes the mistake of suggesting a path untrod by films of its genre. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa were last seen as the auteurs of I Love You Phillip Morris, one of the smartest comedies of recent years. Crazy, Stupid, Love isn't nearly as groundbreaking, but its love-positive dramedy is notably big-hearted and enlivened by the work of a few good actors.

So Moore recedes, popping up mostly as a foil to Cal's effort to Regain His Manhood via new clothes and anonymous sex. He takes tutoring in both fields from Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a hard-bodied, harder-hearted player who is moved to Change His Ways when he falls for Hannah (Emma Stone), a stunning neurotic lady/law student whose Focus On Career has left her in lack of a satisfying romantic life. In a less-successfully integrated story thread, Cal's 13-year-old son nurses an obsessive crush on his 17-year-old babysitter, who in turn only has eyes for fortysomething Cal — a roundelay whose bawdy sentimentality feels airlifted from a John Hughes movie.

Carell and Gosling have a nicely barbed chemistry together, never more convincing than in the scene, indicative of Crazy's treatment of cinematic tropes, in which they establish their pupil-mentor relationship. Strangers negotiating in a bar, they use gangster film lingo to cement a bond whose first destination is necessarily a shopping montage.

Carell's film choices as far back as The 40-Year-Old Virgin suggest a tendency toward middle-aged, every-nerd romantic leads, but here he's given a realistically complicated person to play. As Gosling's character puts it, he has "kind eyes and a good head of hair," both of which go a long way toward boosting the credibility of a character who bounces between oblivious dad, hopeless romantic and calculating Lothario. In contrast to Carell's contrived "transformation" into romantic hero, Gosling is treated like an ingenue, with the directors building an entire scene around the awesome spectacle of his rock-hard midsection, giving his ass and muscles their own key light in a sex scene in which his partner is mostly in shadow.

Dan Fogelman's script is snappy, if too proudly referential. The film is more interesting at its least cute; in its second half, the dialogue seems looser, less bound to punchline. Characters who previously talked over one another, too deep in their own heads to actually have an exchange, slow down and start to listen. Shooting on grainy, high-speed film stock with an often hand-held camera, working with a suite of actors who are game to both play light and silly and dig deep, Ficarra and Requa lend a naturalism to highly contrived, patently absurd situations.

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Karina Longworth