Everything that is associated with — and what many people dislike about — romantic comedies is front and center in Crazy, Stupid Love: Big, schmaltzy romantic gestures; zany misunderstandings; ridiculous makeovers (with the obligatory montage); preposterous leaps of logic; lack of context for the character’s actions; the pour-your-heart-out public speech (at a graduation, no less) and one dumb plot contrivance after another. Under different circumstances with different talent attached, Crazy, Stupid, Love might’ve been no different than any of Ashton Kutcher/Katherine Heigl style romantic comedy to roll out the Hollywood factory every year.
And yet it’s not. If you can temper your groans — and the movie is good enough that it’s not hard to do so — Crazy, Stupid, Love is a sweet, low-key love story, the absolute best movie you could hope for given the circumstances. Steve Carell is likable and lovely, Ryan Goslin is douchebag-charming, Emma Stone is sweet and endearing, and Julianne Moore is, well, she’s in it. The performances are so remarkable, and the direction is so sure handed that, despite your brain’s many misgivings, it’s an easy film to like.
The opening scenes are illustrative of what is right and wrong about the rest of the film. Over dinner, schlumpy Cal (Steve Carell) — in sneakers and a suit a size too big — asks for dessert, and his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore) asks for a divorce. On the ride home, Emily reveals that she’d been sleeping with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon), and Cal jumps out of the moving car. It’s silly and more than a little preposterous, but Carell — full-on wounded soul — sells it and immediately we’re invested in his character.
That character, after moving out, spends the next few nights at a bar where he witnesses the most extraordinarily likable douchebag I’ve ever seen on film take one woman home after another, delivering the same lines to the same kind of buxom plasticine fembots with the same results. Eventually, the womanizer, Jacob (Ryan Gosling), decides he no longer wants to watch the sad-sack Cal mope over his drinks night after night. Jacob decides to turn Cal into an older version of himself. Cal readily agrees because he wants to win his wife back. An unlikely friendship is born.
It works, too — the style-and-personality makeover, that is — and that’s mostly because Carell has never been better than he is in this movie. He is flat-out fucking remarkable, combining his characters from Date Night and Dan in Real Life into a better versions of both: He is wounded, remorseful, and angry, and you can feel every bit of it in his sad, soulful eyes. This is how good Steve Carell’s performance in Crazy, Stupid, Love is: After his Pygmalion transformation, you actually believe — despite what your eyes are telling you — that Steve Carell is a genuinely good-looking guy. We often hear that confidence makes a man more attractive, but you actually witness that in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
The meat of the story is about Cal’s attempts to win back his wife, but where it gets preposterous is all the other little subplots that threaten to detonate the central love story. For instance, Cal and Emily have a 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), who is in love with his 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who in turn is in love with Cal. Robbie’s infatuation with Jessica plays parallel to Cal’s attempts to win back his wife, and the word “soul-mate” is tossed around more than it should be in a grown-up film. Meanwhile, Jacob ends up falling in love with Hannah (Emma Stone), a recent law school grad trying to shake her “PG-13” existence by banging the slutty guy at the bar. As per the studio formula, she gets under his skin, he changes his ways, and they fall in love.
Coincidences pile on top of coincidences, and the story comes to an all-too-convenient and wildly absurd head that’s almost too hard to swallow, even if it does tastes delicious. Part of you will be rolling your eyes while the other will be awwwwing your goddamn heart out. It’s a winning movie, no doubt, and one that I’d recommend to anyone that has a soft spot for romantic comedies. It’s just that it’s a hard movie to love. But it’s an even harder movie not to love.
The biggest disappointment I have is with how much better Crazy, Stupid, Love could’ve been given the performances and the level of talent involved. You’ve got an Oscar caliber actor in Gosling; the incredibly likable and cute Emma Stone; the winsome Steve Carell, who has occasionally displayed a knack for dramatic performances; and Julianne Moore, who, well, she cries really well. Each of them crush every scene they’re in, but it would’ve been nice if they’d been given better scenes with which to work. Indeed, if Crazy Stupid, Love had been able to shed all its Hollywood obligations and the silly subplots, there’s a really sweet and warm love story buried beneath the contrivances. It’s still a good summer movie, but if it hadn’t tried so hard to be a crowd-pleaser, it could’ve been a great Oscar-season movie.