One genre of film in today’s cinema landscape that is lacking in many aspects is the romantic comedy. Eye-rollingly unfunny dialogue, cheesy characters and plots, and soundtracks that include the worst of the top pop hits on the Billboard charts are often what flicks of this nature are comprised of. Crazy, Stupid, Love, while not outright avoiding the clichés that riddle many contemporary romantic movies, does add a breath of fresh air to the mix by having characters and situations that feel real and more importantly, matter to the viewer. Crazy, Stupid, Love begins with Cal and Emily Weaver, a middle aged married couple in their 40’s who were high school sweethearts (played by Steve Carell and Julianne Moore); Emily relates to Cal that she has cheated on him and wants a divorce, and Cal, now a begrudged single man, has to jump into a world of hook-ups and bar chatting that is foreign to him. Overhearing Cal’s difficulties, the smooth talking, womanizer Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) decides to “help” Cal get a makeover in order to live life like a player. All the while secondary characters such as Cal’s son, the couple’s babysitter Jessica, and Hannah, played by Emma Stone, are also on their respective quests for their “true love.”
What makes this film great, despite its sappiness and occasions for clichés, is its awareness of its own genre. Unlike fare like No Strings Attached (a recent, abysmal romantic comedy), Crazy, Stupid, Love uses the movies of the past to its advantage. For instance, towards the end of the movie, Cal’s son makes a speech at his 8th grade graduation; as in typical romantic comedies, due to the nature of the speech (I’ll be vague on purpose here to avoid spoilers), Steve Carell stands up in the crowded auditorium and shouts “STOP!” We’ve seen this scene many times before, but what makes this film different and grounds it in a reality is that immediately afterwards, Carell’s character realizes that what he just did is actually pretty crazy and curses himself while reconsidering his actions before giving the “proper” speech. In another, Steve Carell has a “fail” moment with his wife and she leaves him alone in a parking lot – shortly after rain begins to pour down, at which moment Carell mutters “…what a cliché.” This is a film that does indeed use those eye-rolling expected moments, but only uses them to strengthen its own identity.
The cast is all around pretty amazing. Steve Carell’s turn as a love-stricken everyman is spot on and his chemistry with Julianne Moore hit me as genuine. Emma Stone shows off how talented she can actually be in this ensemble cast and this makes me at least a little bit more excited to see what she will bring to the role of Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man next year. Ryan Gosling fully embodied his character also, pulling off the mysterious ladies man as well as anyone could have. Rounding out the brimming list of actors are Kevin Bacon, playing the home wrecking David Lindhagen, the guy who Emily cheated on her husband with, Marisa Tomei, who plays a brief stint in Cal’s newfound bachelordom, Jonah Bobo, the son/”wise word of advice man” of Cal’s, and Analeigh Tipton, a fresh face playing a babysitter with a “thing” for the much older Cal. Because of the endlessly talented grouping of old and new faces, it’s hard not to end up rooting for these characters in their lives of soul searching and heartache.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is not without its flaws. Some clichés didn’t have a clever edge to them and ended up just feeling like straightforward plot moments. Cal’s son as the “giver of advice” was a little too cheesy for me, and his never-ending pronouncements of love for his soul mate (who does not share those feelings for him) grew tiresome after a while; I also thought Kevin Bacon’s character could have been a little more fleshed out. However, especially among its competition in the genre, it’s a very good feature with a lot to bring to the table. “Love” is a complicated thing, especially when it is not reciprocated; the characters, who by the end of the movie all have a connection with each other, in some way, big or small, show that in the end not everything may work out the way you want it to. Sometimes it will work out perfectly, sometimes it won’t work out at all, and sometimes it will work somewhere in between, and the movie deals with that theme gently and precisely, resulting in a loving tale that doesn’t hit you over the head with its message. It has sweet moments, it has funny moments, and it has cheeseball moments, but it stands as one of the best of its kind. I’ve never been a big fan of these kinds of movies, but I did enjoy watching Crazy, Stupid, Love.