Friday, August 12, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love Movie Review

I think the Steve Carell sad-sack schtick is beginning to wear a little thin for me. In the new romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love he plays Cal, yet another lovable loser who needs outside help from someone much cooler than he is to redefine his style. Aided by the affably funny Paul Rudd in both The 40-Year Old Virgin and Dinner for Schmucks, this time it’s Ryan Gosling, whose inclusion is in the cast is little more than a desperate plea for the teenage girl demographic to show up, who helps with the makeover.

In the first scene of the film, his wife and companion since high school, Emily (Julianne Moore), blurts out over dinner that she wants a divorce. In the car ride home from the restaurant, Cal jumps out of the moving car and then once home, blurts out the truth to the seventeen-year-old babysitter while their thirteen-year-old son is also in the room. This scene, played rather cravenly for laughs, presents as comic relief what should be regarded as a tragically wrenching moment for any family.

Wallowing in a morass of self-pity at a local club – the kind of swanky joint normally found only in urban areas and not in the suburbs where these characters live and work – Cal unloads his sorrows onto anyone who will listen (mostly they don’t, however) until Jacob (a Ryan Gosling to make the girls swoon) takes notice and pity. Inexplicably, Jacob decides to help Cal reinvent himself away from his khaki trousers worn too short over his New Balance runners and his Velcro wallet.

Cal’s style hasn’t progressed since about 1984 (about the same time he admits to having lost his manhood when Jacob asks where they might start looking for it), but Jacob is undoubtedly a contemporary ladies’ man. We see him plying his moves and lines on a different unsuspecting young woman every night, always leaving the club with her then returning the following day. Luckily for him, all the women must be one-time visitors to this club or he’d more often than not be the recipient of a drink thrown in his face. Jacob, a child of the 80’s who’s obviously familiar with The Karate Kid (and Dirty Dancing, but that’s another story) works his magic and teaches Cal through inductive learning (“You Miyagied me!”).

Meanwhile, there are secondary characters like Hannah (Emma Stone), a young law school graduate in a dead-end relationship with a fuddy-duddy lawyer disliked by her best friend. There’s also Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), the teenaged babysitter who works for Cal and Emily and has a girlish crush on Cal. To complicate matters further, Cal’s thirteen year old son, Robbie, is positively smitten with Jessica and admits as much to her (and more) in the opening moments.

The various permutations of unrequited love begin organically. That Robbie loves Jessica who is in love with Cal is believable and sweet. But writer Dan Fogelman, whose previous credits include mostly animated features such as Cars and Tangled, doesn’t quite know where to take them and so the results are, well, cartoonish. Robbie’s and Jessica’s respective trump cards are so over the top that in today’s world, Cal could almost find himself on a sex offenders list. However absurd the teenagers’ actions are, it’s nothing compared to the contrived climax Fogelman dreamed up that has every character coming together in a farcical showdown that involves, at its best, three men wrestling and throwing punches while the women stand on the sidelines shrieking. As directed by the duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, it’s like a mash-up of a French farce and the Marx Brothers, but without any wit, and with the embarrassing display of Julianne Moore stooping to the level of a shrill harpy.

As if that weren’t enough to steer clear, I found myself repeatedly asking myself why I should care about Cal and Emily’s marriage. Fogelman doesn’t do the leg work of providing any kind of suggestion as to why theirs is a relationship worth saving, or even caring about. Unfortunately there’s little emotional investment in that particular story arc. The backbone of the screenplay is built on the assumption that the audience will care about reconciliation between Cal and Emily, so it’s a failure if you find yourself hoping he meets someone better in the club. Part of the problem is that the film takes too much time out to follow Hannah. If it had instead devoted that screen time to establishing the background of Cal and Emily it might have had an overall more cathartic climax and finale.

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