By Brian Hall
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” is confused. Frequently it’s funny, clever and heartwarming, clearly aspiring to transcend tired romantic comedy tropes with a more honest, down-to-earth approach. But sadly, as it progresses, far too many of its characters and their “honest” moments find themselves needlessly juxtaposed with cloying, overly-clever dialog and jarring, cartoonish behavior. Picture eating a really good, homemade chocolate chip cookie and occasionally finding bits of canned cheese in every other bite.
The movie opens with Cal Weaver, played by Steve Carrell, being told by his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) that’s she’s cheated on him and wants a divorce. The pair married when they were teenagers and decades removed from the dating scene are doing no favors for Cal. Fortunately, Jacob, a GQ magazine come to life played by Ryan Gosling, decides to take Cal under his wing, rebuild his confidence as well as his wardrobe, and help him get his mojo back.
Jacob appears to be the ideal mentor for Cal since he picks up women seemingly for sport, as all females are rendered powerless by his charms. Well, all except for Hannah (Emma Stone), a plucky lawyer-to-be who sees right through his act – and just may get him to re-think his whole game plan.
Additionally, every character in Cal’s peripheral happens to be involved in their own romantic scenarios resulting in a web of infatuation of Love Actually-type proportions — Cal’s 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is obsessed with his babysitter who herself carries an infatuation for Cal. Emily’s co-worker and catalyst for the break-up of her marriage, played by Kevin Bacon, shows no signs of letting her slip away while Marisa Tomei plays an attractive bar-hopper who further complicates things for Cal.
Where the film really shines are in two areas, the first being its highly likable cast.Chalk it up to Gosling for playing what’s essentially a live-action Pepe LePew and actually pulling it off. Same goes for Carrell, Moore, Stone and Analeigh Tipton – Robbie’s babysitter – for taking sometimes confusing, inconsistent characters and making us root for them anyway. The film’s second strength lies in its examination of Cal’s family as it falls apart. Carrell, Moore and Bobo all get inspired, behind-the-curtain scenes that delicately display the affect the divorce is having on them.
Unfortunately, the film is often brought down by its tonally inconsistent screenplay. One too many clunky moments and questions raised throughout make you wonder if the final shooting script wasn’t the result of two separate screenplays – one, a sweet, down-to-earth examination on love and the other, a more obvious, Katherine Heigl variety rom com – having their pages integrated into one, mega-script.
Strong, tender scenes involving a son’s defense of his dad in the face of the lothario pursuing his mother are followed later by scenes delving into Three’s Company-type shenanigans with a group of misinformed characters trying to strangle each other. And I’d love to know what movie co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa told Tomei she was in because I think she’ll be plenty surprised when she finds herself, against the rest of the performances, essentially playing an attractive Tasmanian devil.
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” serves up some humorous and heartbreaking, real-life moments that are so often missing from movies like these. That it aims so high is what makes it so likable, and alternately, at times so frustrating when it misses the mark.
The end result doesn’t make for an unpleasant viewing, just a jumbled one.