27 September 2011


Remember Blue Valentine, earlier this year? When Ryan Gosling played a husband so hopelessly depressed and love-sick that his hair was falling out? Like Tom Hardy, he's an actor whose recent films have exercised his considerable range as an actor, and the second of his two roles released last week are just as different from one another as they are from Blue Valentine. Good for him. Right, now let's talk about the other stuff in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

The main plot in this tangled ensemble flick finds poor, cuckolded Cal Weaver bemoaning the fact that his wife of 25 years, Emily, wants a divorce, after cheating on him with a co-worker. Wallowing in his own misery at a bar that's far too trendy for him, he encounters Jacob, a womaniser who vows to re-masculate Cal, by sprucing up his appearance and self-image. But Jacob's own game is changed when he falls for a young lawyer, Hannah. Meanwhile, Cal tries to recapture the affections of his wife and family.

There are two main types of big romantic ensemble movie, and happily, this is the better kind. It's not littered with the walking debris of numerous big name stars, clambering onboard a sinking ship made from romantic mush. That would be Valentine's Day, and its upcoming sequel, New Year's Eve, the trailer of which gave me a nauseous feeling before the altogether more grounded appeal of the main attraction. Crazy, Stupid, Love has proper, likeable characters, and the popularity of the stars playing them is actually incidental.

It's directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, whose last pass at romantic comedy was the hugely underrated I Love You Phillip Morris. However, they also wrote that film, while the script for this one comes from Dan Fogelman, whose credits include Fred Claus and Cars, and a couple of better family films- Tangled and Bolt. And so the film is a lot fluffier than a script by Ficarra and Requa might have been, but I applaud the way in which Fogelman commits to showing the complexities of grown-up relationships, rather than dumbing them down to very broad strokes.

But while Crazy, Stupid, Love has enough genuinely brilliant scenes to put it on the road to being a must-see movie, it's still slightly over-burdened by its cast of characters and their complicated love lives. It's not merely Cal's story and Jacob's story, but also Hannah's story; and Emily's story; and Cal's son Robbie's story; and Cal's children's babysitter's story. Cal and Jacob link up in such a way that might have made for a decent film on its own, but connecting all the dots established here takes considerably more work.

The plot with Robbie, for instance, puts an unexpected amount of pressure on the shoulders of young actor Jonah Bobo, who somehow gets more screentime in this movie than Emma Stone. Bobo's character is precocious and yet, at 13 years old, prurient enough to make the proceedings a little weird. It's at his behest that we get some of those "Love is..." monologues though. The set-up of a lovelorn teenager who believes in grand romantic gestures, and seems to galvanise the other characters to improve their own lives at various points, doesn't necessarily do the film any harm- it's just that there's enough going on already.

To the genre-savvy, it may appear that Steve Carell is back in 40 Year Old Virgin territory, and it turns out that he is, but only so far as delivering another enjoyably sheepish performance, which was equally true of his work in films like Little Miss Sunshine. Ryan Gosling is a believable smooth talker, on the virtue of being Ryan Gosling, and his chemistry with Emma Stone makes them a credible couple beyond the fact that they're both really ridiculously good-looking. And the radiant Julianne Moore seems to have become Hollywood's answer to Kristin Scott Thomas, as an actress who makes the melancholy of a middle-aged female infinitely sympathetic.

It's a bit inaccurate to call it a romcom, because the scenes between Carell and Moore, in particular, carry quite a bit of dramatic weight. Let's call it a dramedy then, because it's a film that can call itself anything it wants, as far as I'm concerned. It's enjoyable and involving enough that you're not standing outside of it and just waiting for a second-act twist that I honestly didn't see coming. But with most scripts averaging 120 pages in length, it's just unfortunate that this scene ultimately feels like it came on page 110, and Fogelman had to fall back on genre tropes in order to wrap it up quickly thereafter.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is a mainstream romantic film, produced in Hollywood, where the relationships of adults are complex. Their personalities and reactions are well thought out, and subtly played by the cast. Considering the state of its genre, that's practically Oscar-worthy. But on the whole, I admit that it's not without its flaws- put simply, there's an awful lot to Love before you get to the Crazy and Stupid parts. The Stupid threatens to ruin the whole thing, but at the point the Crazy kicks in, I was too swept up by the film's endearing emotional realism to be that much of a grouch about it. One of the year's better date movies, by some distance.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Crazy, Stupid, Love, why not share your comments below? By the way, don't check this on IMDB before you go in- the cast list ruins that surprise I mentioned.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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