Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Back in May, the film world exploded with delight when Bridesmaids became a critical and commercial hit, as everyone cheered that the romantic comedy had been "saved." But that's a bit of an exaggeration, don't you think? Sure, there are plenty of terrible, by-the-numbers romantic comedies out there (see: anything Katharine Heigl has ever starred in), but that doesn't account for every one of them. Take, for example, The Proposal: not a game-changer, by any means, but it thrived on the chemistry of Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock to become an entertaining piece of fluff. Or, as an even better example, take a look at last year's The Kids Are All Right: it's not a typical rom-com, but there's no denying that it is, indeed, a romantic comedy. The romantic comedy itself never needed to be "saved;" the acknowledgement that good romantic comedies exist was what needed salvation.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is, without a doubt, a romantic comedy. But it's not what you could call a "typical" rom-com. The film juggles three different interconnected stories: Cal (Steve Carell) discovers that his wife, Emily, is having an affair with her co-worker David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon) and wants a divorce. Their son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is creepily in love with his babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who is herself harboring feelings for Cal. Now separated, Cal begins frequenting the bars, pitifully bemoaning himself when Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a young playboy, offers to help him move on by making him over both physically and mentally. However, Jacob finds himself falling for young lawyer Hannah (Emma Stone), who could be, as he puts it, the "gamechanger" that he's always wanted.

Of course, all of that happens in just the film's first act. Once the relationships are established, the film, written by Dan Fogelman (Cars, Bolt) lets loose, allowing the various characters to interact as they fall in and out of love. In a way, the film serves as a more focused Love Actually, as each relationship is given more than five minutes to develop. It's a great script, and though it can feel a little slow in the first act, the payoffs throughout the film are worthwhile and emotionally fulfilling. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You, Phillip Morris) prove to be quite adept at playing both the broad comedy and the quieter dramatic moments, particularly a great scene in which Cal and Emily talk before a student-teacher conference; their entire marriage can be felt in the sweetly awkward dialogue.

Much of that is due to the fantastic-if-unexpected chemistry between Carell and Moore. Carell's face is very expressive, which is part of what made Michael Scott such an incredible character on The Office, and if he can keep finding roles that blend comedy and drama as well as Cal, he could have a very healthy movie career. (I do worry, though, that Moore seems to be cast more and more as the adultrous spouse; perhaps her blood-red coif ignites passion in the minds of casting directors?). Gosling is as charming as ever, and he gets a good chance to play broad comedy here, as well as show off his impeccable, well, pecs. His chemistry with Stone is wonderful; Stone is quickly becoming one of my favorite working actresses, period. And Bobo and Tipton do moody and awkward teenager, respectively, quite well. The real scene-stealer, though, is Marisa Tomei as Kate, the first woman Cal hooks up with after the divorce who comes back with a (comedic) vengeance.

Crazy, Stupid, Love doesn't really present anything new: we've all seen these stories before, perhaps countless times. But it does present them in a sweetly almost-realistic way; it's not a Hollywood love story, but it's optimistic enough to believe that love may be crazy, but it's not stupid to strive for. B+

And because, really, this alone is worth the price of admission:

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