At last, an intelligent, well-crafted, and aptly cast romantic comedy—they seem about as rare these days as successful marriages. God knows I’ve watched some clunkers from that genre of late, most recently that aimless, gender-stereotyped piece of PC garbage The Rebound. I’m thankful to have that vile taste out of my mouth.
But let’s be positive. I’m really thankful that Crazy, Stupid, Love is not your average, by-the-numbers love story. And it doesn’t just glibly weave a cento of meaningless stock messages that moralize or insult your intelligence. Or cynically mock platonic love, as the title might lead one to believe. Quite the contrary. That last comma is significant, for it establishes love as a separate item, not to be derogatorily associated with “stupid.” It’s the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel of life’s big mistakes, the culmination of a quest for one’s soulmate. The characters in Crazy, Stupid, Love do indeed make stupid and crazy choices. And entertain stupid and crazy infatuations. And hide behind stupid and crazy self-images. Finally, however, they’re able to reflect on their folly, realizing the only thing they wanted all along was to uncover a certain meaning in their life through deep love and attachment.
The film opens on a middle-aged couple, Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) and his wife Emily (Julianne Moore), sitting in a restaurant and poring over a menu trying to decide what they want for dessert. “I want . . . a divorce!” comes the bombshell dropped by Emily. It turns out she’s been having an affair with an officemate, weasel-faced David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). We can’t really blame her. From the get-go, Cal is depicted as a shambling, geeky, socially inept bore. Clearly she wants some pizzazz in life.
While drowning his sorrows with vodka cranberry martinis and blurting out the name “David Lindhagen” to the waitresses at a local bar, Cal meets Jake Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a barfly Casanova and encyclopedia of successful pick-up lines who offers to teach Cal how to reclaim his manhood. “I don’t know whether to help you or euthanize you,” he tells his new protégé, one of his many hilarious one-liners. But even this one-minded ladies’ man ends up falling in love—with Cal’s older daughter Hannah (Emma Stone), an aspiring lawyer.
Cal decides he isn’t ready to be put out of his misery quite yet. Taking the bull by the horns and heeding what he’s learned from Jake’s tutorials, he approaches a dark sultry woman in a blue dress, Kate Tafferty (Marisa Tomei). At first, he mechanically recites his guru’s spiel. When that makes him look like a jackass, he comes clean about the whole thing, telling her about his marital woes and that she looks like the “perfect combination of sexy and cute,“ as he used to tell his wife. Kaching! That pushes her buttons and they go back to his apartment for some steamy love-making.
Unfortunately, it just so happens Kate’s also the eighth-grade teacher for Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), so you can imagine how awkward it is when Cal and Emily show up in her classroom for a parent-teacher conference. Robbie has his own problems. he’s fantasizing about his babysitter Jessica Riley (Analeigh Tipton). In turn, Jessica is lusting after Cal. I guess you could say Cal is at the middle of a love triangle . . . or quadrangle . . . or whatever, I almost lose count.
Ludicrous—in some ways. Overly ironic and needlessly complex—a bit. The only real fault of Crazy, Stupid, Love is that it tries to do too much. There are simply too many subplots that are not credible, the most problematic of which are Robbie’s and Jessica’s bizarre and inappropriate infatuations. They’re simply overripe teens who, to put it bluntly, can’t possibly know what love means yet.
Yet heartfelt, imaginative, and sincere—definitely. The reflective and believable moments in Crazy, Stupid, Love far outweigh the contrived ones. I know a lot of guys just like Jake, who turned from players to homebodies when they found the right girl. Just as there are a lot of Cals and Emilys out there who wreck their homes only to recall, sometimes bittersweetly, that the girl or guy they passed notes to in English class or shared an ice cream soda with may have been “the one.” At heart, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a touching and unpretentious look at the folly, depth, and intricacy of human relationships. I wish there were more crazy good films like this.
Joe’s Grade: B+