Film Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love

Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Julianne Moore all shine in this multi-generational comedy full of romantic complications.

Could it be? A summer comedy with actual sincerity, intelligence and heart? That’s the refreshing difference offered by Crazy, Stupid, Love, a story of yearning and passions both ignited and unrequited, with choice opportunities for a talented ensemble cast led by an excellent Steve Carell.

Screenwriter Dan Fogelman’s adult concerns here belie his credits on the animated films Cars, Bolt and Tangled. At the center of the tale is Cal Weaver (Carell), a complacent suburban forty-something whose life is shattered in the opening scene when his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) announces—seemingly out of the blue—that she’s been having an affair and wants a divorce. Cal is so shell-shocked, he throws himself out of a moving car rather than hear one more moment of his wife’s unburdening.

Loudly bemoaning his fate at the local watering hole, Cal attracts the attention of Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a smooth, insanely confident pick-up artist who decides to give this sad sack a few lessons in the art of seduction. Under Jacob’s supervision, the inexperienced Cal gets a stylish wardrobe makeover and learns how to approach a woman and hold her interest. Jacob, meantime, meets his match in Hannah (Emma Stone), a recent law-school graduate who finally succumbs to his flirtations after she breaks up with her dull boyfriend (singer Josh Groban), but keeps her flinty personality intact.

An even younger generation is represented by Cal’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), who harbors a desperate crush on his 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who in turn is utterly obsessed with the much older Cal. Comic complications among all these characters naturally ensue, with one big reveal saved for the movie’s halfway point.

In a season of comedies so poorly constructed you wonder if the writers have short-term memory issues, it’s a pleasure to watch an ensemble movie where the pieces fit together in gratifying ways. Each of the storylines may seem discrete at first, but they eventually coalesce and collide in a memorable scene in which all the main characters’ unwitting revelations lead to pure chaos.

Carell, having just ended his seven-year run as the manic Michael Scott on “The Office,” again proves his impressive range with his deftly modulated performance here, balanced between goofy awkwardness and real poignancy. Whether musing on the word “cuckold” or nearly sabotaging a seduction, Carell makes an endearing Everyman. The script gives Moore less to work with as his restless wife, but this dependably good actress makes Emily’s anguish relatable and sympathetic.

Gosling, looking so absurdly buff that Hannah asks if he’s Photoshopped, is a major revelation in a rare comedy role. Jacob’s effortless knack for picking up women is a joke in itself, but Gosling somehow mixes charm with smarm, and we actually root for him when he finally meets a woman he can commit to, the formidable Hannah. Stone, also starring in this summer’s The Help, here confirms her status as one of the movies’ most spirited and appealing young actresses. With her palpable intelligence and down-to-earth sense of fun, it’s easy to see why Jacob the lothario falls for her.

Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon add to the star power in supporting roles as, respectively, a conquest of Cal’s he comes to regret, and Emily’s office paramour. Jonah Bobo holds his own amidst this cast in the substantial role of Cal’s love-struck young son, and newcomer Analeigh Tipton navigates the difficult (and borderline-queasy) part of the babysitter mooning over Carell.

Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who wrote Bad Santa and wrote and directed the equally outrageous I Love You Phillip Morris, prove that they can work successfully in PG-13-rated territory and bring out the best in a gifted star ensemble. Truth-in-advertising alert: The title may be Crazy, Stupid, Love, but for once, “stupid” doesn’t apply.