Crazy, Stupid, Love.

"Seriously?! It's like you're photoshopped!"

It’s not often that I get to refer to an ostensible “romantic comedy” as “awesome,” so mark this occasion. I don’t use the word lightly. Crazy, Stupid Love. is a stunner – a thoroughly commercial crowdpleaser that’s written with an ear for the way people really speak, and beautifully acted by a killer ensemble. If you’ve ever been dragged to a dire, formulaic Hollywood rom-com – Life as We Know It or Letters to Juliet or something – and wished you could watch something similar except not written for morons, wish granted.  Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You, Philip Morris) from a script by Dan Fogelman (Tangled), the film takes familiar genre clichés and gently finesses them into something delightful and uproariously funny.

There are a solid 80 minutes in the middle of Crazy, Stupid Love that consist of one perfect scene after another, building to the sort of gut-busting momentum that’s the hallmark of great comedy. Many of the scenes are actively miraculous. Consider: a schlumpy accountant named Cal (Steve Carell) is informed by his wife (Julianne Moore) that she wants a divorce – there’s someone else. Despondent, he ventures to an expensive bar, where he’s spotted by prolific and extremely successful pick-up artist Jacob (Ryan Gosling) who offers to transform the New-Balance-wearing nice guy into an immaculately-dressed smooth-talker such that his wife will “rue the day” she let him go. Game, Cal internalizes Jacob’s lessons – which include the artful putdown, a refusal to talk about oneself, and a maniacal insistence on buying women a drink – to the point where he’s ready to make an approach. His target: the lovely, middle-aged Kate (Marisa Tomei), all dolled-up and sitting alone.

You can guess the hilarity that’s supposed to ensue here: Cal will mechanically follow the prescriptions of his sensei, weirding Kate out and making things very uncomfortable. Picking Up Women: You’re Doing It Wrong. And that’s what happens, sort of. Except that Cal approaches the situation like an actual sane person might – he has his marching orders, but is unsure, and genuinely doesn’t want to come off like a creep. (Carell’s usual persona of the nice, well-intentioned guy who’s in over his head but plowing forward anyway works wonders here.)  Kate reacts with genuine, good-natured puzzlement. At this point I was near tears with laughter. Then there’s a reversal that makes it even funnier. It’s comedy magic – and Crazy, Stupid, Love. replicates it, oh, a good half-dozen times.

Incidentally: holy fuck, this is a movie that stars Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling and Marisa Tomei, all at the same time. And also Emma Stone and Kevin Bacon for good measure. Stone plays Hannah, who, frustrated with her bland lawyer boyfriend (Josh Groban!), sets her sights on Gosling’s simmering bad boy. Bacon has the admittedly thankless role of the dude who cuckolds Cal. There’s another, perhaps unnecessary subplot involving Cal’s son, who has the hots for his teenage babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) – who, in turn, has an inexplicable crush on Cal himself.

The film is occasionally too clever by half, busting out some awfully convenient, sitcom-y coincidences. But while each of these lighthearted plot twists may inspire a bit of eye-rolling, they also set up some priceless moments – once a brilliant scene set at a parent-teacher conference (culminating in the year’s single funniest line of dialogue); another time a cathartic explosion of violence following a reconciliation attempt gone horribly wrong. Fogelman’s screenplay is also wise, resisting the genre’s most poisonous clichés. One might expect Cal’s tutelage at the hands of a callous lothario to end in the movie soundly repudiating the latter, exclaiming that clothes and swagger and empty charm are worthless compared to Cal’s niceness and sincerity. But no: Crazy, Stupid, Love has the intellectual honesty to recognize that the right thing for Cal is to end up somewhere in the middle – nice and sincere and well-dressed and confident.

The film stumbles a bit in its last half hour; there’s a big scene at a middle school graduation that feels as wrong as the encounter between Cal and Kate feels right. But in a wasteland of a genre, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a rich, sharp, funny oasis.

 

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

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Score: C+

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Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

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Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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