THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"CRAZY STUPID LOVE"
The once-great romantic comedy has turned into a genre that's on life support. Every single year, we get at least a half dozen lame-brained pictures that follow the same formulas (bickering man and woman are secretly in love with each other; gorgeous-but-hopeless loser can't find Mr. Right; etc.) and send the same anti-feminist messages to audiences (women are incomplete, uptight shrews until they find the love of a good, down-to-earth man). Finding a rom-com that actually understands something about love has become sadly rare. The days of When Harry Met Sally... have morphed into the days of The Back-Up Plan and whatever new movie Katherine Heigl has out. Blessedly, Crazy Stupid Love is more old-school than new-school. It has a brain in its head and something to say. While not perfect, it's easily the best romantic comedy since (500) Days of Summer.
Steve Carell plays Cal Weaver, who is blindsided when his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) announces that she had an affair with a co-worker and wants a divorce. After moving into a depressing single-guy apartment, Cal tries with much incompetence to move on. He hangs around in a trendy bar, ostensibly to meet women, but really just to fool himself into thinking he's more okay than he actually is. While he doesn't get far with the ladies, he does attract the notice of Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a smooth-talking Lothario who goes home from the bar with a different woman every night. Jacob takes pity on Cal and offers to help him find some game. It's a difficult task; Cal lacks the self-confidence that Jacob has in excess. Still, it only takes a short while before Cal successfully picks up an attractive woman named Kate (Marisa Tomei). He still pines for Emily, though. Cal later gets to return the favor when Jacob falls in honest-to-goodness love with Hannah (Emma Stone), a smart-headed girl who resists his pick-up lines and come-ons.
Crazy Stupid Love also has a bunch of other characters trying to make sense of romance. Cal and Emily's pre-teen son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is in love with his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who has a crush on Cal. Hannah is dating a boring lawyer (Josh Groban) who may not be ready for commitment. Kevin Bacon plays Emily's new man, who is not Cal, which may or may not be a good thing. The movie weaves all these characters in and out of subplots, showing how love can make you become totally focused or completely baffled, how it can lift you up when you find it and make you feel like dirt when you lose it. By looking at the subject from so many different angles, Crazy Stupid Love is kind of like the romantic comedy version of Crash.
It works because the actors all bring a sense of relatability to their characters. These feel like identifiable people and not the garden variety morons you normally come across in the genre. Steve Carell does a nice job dialing down the wacky to play a guy who is lost when his world crumbles around him. The scenes in which Cal tries to mimic Jacob's coolness are painfully funny because, let's face it, we all know that guy who got divorced in his 40s and then had to try to get his mojo back. (Hopefully, you aren't him.) Carell has stunningly good chemistry with Ryan Gosling, who shows impressive comedic skills. So convincingly does the actor portray Jacob that never for a second do you doubt his effect on women. At the same time, he never comes off as someone you dislike. He's honest about what he is – and also sincere when he decides it's time to change. Emma Stone and Julianne Moore get less screen time, but both portray admirably strong women. Stone, in particular, is the opposite of the usual rom-com heroine, in that she seems to want to take control of her own destiny.
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the writers of Bad Santa) and penned by Dan Fogelman (Fred Claus, Tangled), the movie has a lot of laughs, in addition to a pleasing sincerity about the subject of love. If anything, it occasionally goes a bit too broad with its comedy, especially in a climactic confrontation scene. I'm also not sure I bought some of the “surprise” connections between the characters that are revealed as the plot goes on; they tend to feel a little forced.
A few minor reservations aside, Crazy Stupid Love is generally thoughtful about its subject, and it mixes humor with moments of insight. If you're hungry for a romantic comedy that's really entertaining and doesn't insult your intelligence, here it is.
( out of four)
Crazy Stupid Love debuts on DVD and in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack on November 1.
The Blu-Ray has a few special features, the most notable of which is a 12-minute collection of deleted scenes. There's one excised bit in which Cal first rents his single-guy apartment that represents a nice mix of comedy and pathos. Emma Stone's character gets a few extra moments, and there's an extended montage of Jacob taking Cal on a shopping trip that is hilarious.
“Steve and Ryan Walk Into a Bar” is a short feature in which Carell and Gosling talk about the making of the film. It's actually just an excuse for them to goof around, but it underscores how much they compliment each other on screen. The two seem to genuinely like each other, and that comes across in the main feature.
“The Player Meets His Match” runs about 6 minutes and focuses on the character of Jacob. Gosling talks about the challenges of playing a Lothario, while other cast members offer thoughts on Jacob as well.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are excellent. You also get an UltraViolet copy which allows you to download the movie to a PC or Mac, plus instantly stream it from a digital cloud to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Crazy Stupid Love is rated PG-13 for coarse humor, sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.