Our ultimate expectations of a romance film are hypocritical. On one hand, we expect a grounded film: real people in real relationships with real feelings doing not necessarily sane but at least rational things in the name of love. On the other hand, we relish in fairytale depictions of love and the idea that true love finds a way and other poetic notions such as soul mates. “Crazy, Stupid, Love” fights this battle longer and to more extreme degrees than anything before it. Those with the fairytale soft-spot will take to it instantly, but even those who tip their scales in favor of believable romance will find something that resonates.
Heartfelt and natural performances from a range of excellent actors yanks this out of the rom-com nebula and into something seemingly more tangible. With talents lesser than Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, this would not only be a rom-com, but also the flamboyant marshall of the rom-com parade. Although powerless against the cliché moments and improbable romantic gestures of Dan Fogelman’s script, they add incredible emotional realism to his smaller, more intimate moments.
Carell stars as Cal Weaver who in the opening seconds learns that his wife, Emily (Moore), wants a divorce. After throwing himself from their car when learning she had an affair with David Linhagen (Kevin Bacon), he goes home and prematurely squeals the news to his babysitter, high schooler Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who happens to have a crush on him. His 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), also overhears — and he’s got a crush on Jessica.
Once again, with generic rom-com mainstays in place, bringing a sense of realism to this convenient and nearly farcical romantic chaos would’ve been almost impossible. Carell has his character on lockdown, blending his “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Dan in Real Life” characters into an earnest yet loony portrait of a middle-aged man learning to float after his lifelong stability gives out on him. Moore deftly navigates the territory of a woman in midlife crisis who’s emotionally unsatisfied but completely unsure how to handle it. In contrast, Robbie is so completely far from a typical 13-year-old boy it’s insulting. If his relentless pursuit of Jessica ever finally clicks in any form of the word, it’s not until the very end and the fact that it basically works at that point is nothing short of magic.
Then there’s Jacob (Gosling), the handsome (I’m underselling him) womanizer who takes a dejected Carell under his wing and teaches him the ways (“Karate Kid” references abounding) of the bar pick up. He’s such a smooth natural in his role he could pick up someone watching this movie despite their knowledge of being played. Jacob’s backstory (why he’s at this bar every night picking up women) ends up a casualty, which was really a big mistake, but Gosling has such a strong way with transparency that we believe all Jacob says or does. There’s no doubt that he actually feels something for Hannah (Stone), even if it materializes way faster than it should.
Quickness and exaggeration are two of the chief factors of “Crazy, Stupid, Love” that threaten to derail it in the eyes of those looking for grounding to their romance. Cal’s gut reaction to his wife’s divorce request, not trying to rectify the situation instead of bailing for the bar, seems hasty. After learning well from Jacob and becoming a ladies’ man himself, his attempts to get Emily back don’t gel, perhaps because they come at the ushering of his unrealistic 13-year-old son. Especially when the film reaches it’s big revealing climax, the rash reactions and failures to communicate get really frustrating.
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” dashes willy-nilly between moments of emotional realism and romantic exaggeration and realistic humor and comedic exaggeration, enough to make your head spin. After all, this was directed by Glen Ficarra and John Requa, the team behind “Bad Santa” and “I Love You, Phillip Morris,” both of which go extreme and dark places for laughs yet try to stay human.
So how does it all — for the most part — ever manage to unscramble? The performances are truly the key, but the film’s success comes down these intimate, down-to-earth moments throughout, like when Emily calls Cal without knowing he can see her from the backyard. These quieter moments give the actors a chance to shine and Fogelman’s dialog has some real bright spots too. These moments help build support for the characters, a support and general liking that mostly doesn’t tear apart throughout the absurd and unrealistic moments. It’s a completely wild ride between two drastically different approaches to romance, but considering that all the contrast and paradox only bolsters the title “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” it has to be considered a success.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Directed by Glen Ficarra and John Requa
Written by Dan Fogelman
Starring: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone