Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Somewhere down the road the nature of romantic comedies changed, I believe the shift occurred around the time Love Actually came in the fall of 2003.  Suddenly the simple story of boy meets girl became too old hat, or something, and instead all the romantic Hollywood tales that seemed to follow had to be big romantic epics.  With huge ensembles, why settle for one love story when you can get six for the same price.  The cynicism of the genre over the last couple of years expanded with romantic comedies based on self-help books (He's Just Not That Into You), and in an ever more desperate move at pure commercialism: holidays (last year's Valentine's Day and the upcoming New Year's Eve.)  So with a grain of salt, there's a slight respite to these bigger and starrier romances with the ensemble comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love, a chipper, mostly agreeable Hollywood fairy tale that at this best has a wistful, sometimes melancholy spark that's lifted up by its generous and very famous cast.  The film has many of the same flaws that many other romantic ensemble comedies do-- it's a bit too long, the whole doesn't quite equal the sum of its parts, and there's a few too many subplots that run out of steam too early on, but there's also an energy, flaky romantic verve, and even a dash of hope.

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the pranksters who co-wrote Bad Santa, and directed last year's raucous gay romantic fable I Love You, Phillip Morris from a script by Dan Fogelman (graduating to live action after writing films like Tangled and Cars 2), Crazy, Stupid, Love starts with Cal and Emily Weaver (Steve Carell and Julianne Moore), married for twenty-five years, sitting at dinner, when she turns and says, "I want a divorce."  Cal shuts down-- he even jumps out a moving vehicle to avoid talking about it, for Emily has admitted infidelity.  Soon he finds himself hanging out a posh pick-up bar drunkenly lamenting his sad state when a local lothario named Jacob (Ryan Gosling), out of pity or self-indulgence agrees to help the sad sack.  He trains the newly single Cal to become the self-obsessed, well-dressed, skirt-chaser he never thought he could be.  The first third of the film is ostensibly a remake of the Will Smith 2005 vehicle Hitch, but Gosling, in a pure movie star performance, does something refreshing and almost incandescently interesting with the role of Jacob.  He's a substance-free, fast talking ladies man, but with such a self-aware projection of confidence, it's also an essay on the caddish lifestyle in of itself.  He's aware that even when he's a jerk, he's also so magnetically charming that he's irresistible to almost anyone.  It's sort of sneaking Method-approach to old school movie star charisma.

There's several other tacked on romances on the side as well, as Cal's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has a mad crush on his babysitter that verges this side of stalker.  His babysitter on the other had, a comely and soft-spoken teenager named Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) has an even more inappropriate crush of her own.  Emily has her courtship with the office mate that made Cal a cuckold to begin with, played by Kevin Bacon, whose most interesting trait is his character's name: David Lindhagen (one of Carell's funniest scenes is a drunken dissection.)  Cal, newly free and on the loose for the first time makes an unstable middle school teacher his first target (in a nicely calibrated bit of craziness played by Marisa Tomei.)  While Jacob himself finds himself challenged by a game-changer of a girl, a lawyer played with disarming grace (if a bit of a lack of dimension) by Emma Stone.  All these stories comes together in a nicely muddled bit of chaos that's, well, a bit crazy, kind of stupid and sort of lovely.  That the film keeps going another twenty minutes is its ultimate downfall.  Yet even with certain lapses in pacing, and subplots that start to verge on the creepy (the babysitter subplot in particular wares itself out really fast), cliche staples (like Robbie as the wizened child distilling the best romantic advice), and uneven scripting, there's a freshness to the performances that feel sometimes real.  B

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