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Crazy, Stupid, Love

Of all the genres in film, two of my least favorite are the rom-com and the chick flick. Such movies are known to be practically interchangeable, so much so that the two genres have practically become synonymous. Take Hitch, for example, that rom-com in which Will Smith coaches Kevin James in the way of how to be a ladies’ man. Naturally, Smith himself falls in love and turns into a total doofus around Eva Mendes, though Smith and James both go on to live happily ever after with their respective love interests.

The movie sucked. The characters were all two-dimensional and the plot was old enough to be found in cave paintings. Even so, I couldn’t help but be reminded of it by the trailer to Crazy, Stupid, Love. This trailer showed me a film with a similar premise, except that the two male leads — one a devoted bachelor and one newly divorced — went to each other for advice. A novel twist on an old narrative, with developed characters played by a solid cast to boot. It seemed to good to be true.

Sorry, did I write “seemed?” I meant “was.”

Let’s start from the beginning and meet our characters. I’ll go ahead and break them down into three subplots to make things easier. First, we meet Cal Weaver (Steve Carell), and his wife Emily (Julianne Moore). They’ve been married for 25 years, yet Emily suddenly declares that she wants a divorce just as the opening title comes up. Apparently, Emily has been coming down with something of a midlife crisis and inexplicably decided to screw her coworker, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). Cal is devastated, because he and Emily have been in love since high school and the adultery came entirely out of nowhere. Completely inexperienced at flirting and with no one else to turn to, Cal starts drowning his sorrows at a local bar.

Second, there’s Cal’s son. Robbie (Jonah Bobo, who’d better get a stage name while he’s still young) is thirteen years old and very visibly damaged by the collapse of his parents’ marriage. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Robbie also has a crush on his longtime babysitter, Jessica (former America’s Next Top Model contestant Analeigh Tipton). She’s four years older, which isn’t much in adult terms, but that’s a huge difference at 13 and 17. In fact, speaking of age differences, Jessica is actually happy about the divorce because she has a crush on Cal. And that was enough to break my suspension of disbelief right there.

I mean no disrespect to Steve Carrell, he’s a very funny man, but come on. I refuse to believe that any 17-year-old girl would look at this guy and start swooning. The man could not be a teenage heartthrob. No way, no how.

Third, there’s Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a man with a gift for sweet-talking women out of bars and into bed. His only failed attempt that we ever see onscreen is actually his very first: Hannah (Emma Stone) quickly shuts him down, though her friend (Liza Lapira) falls for him hard. See, Hannah is a law student in a serious relationship with some dork played by Josh Groban (yes, that Josh Groban). The two are completely wrong for each other, but Hannah doesn’t realize it until an awkward marriage-proposal-that-wasn’t. She goes back to Jacob in a horny, drunken rage, and the two eventually fall in love.

Stone and Gosling are both gorgeous, they’re both funny, and their chemistry together is amazing. This is actually the part of the movie I was looking forward to, in which Jacob falls head-over-heels in love, forced to turn to Cal because the two have come to be such trusting friends and Jacob has no idea how to commit. As such, it gives me great pain to admit that this story point is crammed into one scene in the back half of the second act. Hell, Hannah doesn’t even do anything through the entire first half of this movie, which means that the relationship doesn’t even start until an hour in! As such, the movie isn’t focused on Cal and Jacob so much as it’s focused squarely on Cal.

The whole thing begins after Cal’s separation from Emily, when he goes into a bar for two nights straight and yells about his marital status to anyone who will listen. Fed up and sorry for the guy, Jacob — another of the bar’s usual customers — decides to do something about it and help Cal pull himself back together. New wardrobe, new workout routine, new attitude, the works. Meanwhile, Emily is trying to sort through her many feelings about her husband and her one-time(?) fling. This is the entirety of the first act, and also most of the second.

The comedy in the first act can aptly be described as “awkward.” It’s all about putting Carell and Emily in the most painfully awkward situations and conversations imaginable, with the humor stemming from how pathetic these characters are. On the one hand, this is necessary as a means to show Carell’s dating ineptitude in an entertaining way. On the other hand, this is also the phase of the movie in which these characters are being established as relatable and sympathetic. These are characters with very understandable and very common difficulties, rooted in very real emotional problems. The movie is trying to milk this scenario for drama and for comedy in such a way that we can laugh at our characters even as we cry with them. That’s an extremely difficult act to pull even at the best of times, and this film failed at it.

As long as I’m digressing, I’d like to talk about the visuals. There’s really nothing remarkable about the camerawork, except for the cinematographer’s strange focus on shoes. There are several shots throughout this movie — especially at the very beginning — that are nothing but close-ups of peoples’ shoes. Why? I haven’t a clue. If it was some kind of symbolic metaphor, the meaning is lost on me.

Then there’s the product placement. One character gives Cal a Macy’s bag for no reason whatsoever. There’s a slow-motion pan across every liquor bottle in the bar. Our characters visit Lowe’s for a home improvement project. One character actually asks another if he’s Steve Jobs, “the CEO of Apple.” I’m not necessarily against all product placement as so many people are, and I personally think that I’m pretty well used to it as a 21st-century moviegoer, but this is just atrocious. There’s no excusing how shameless and pointless all this advertising is. Furthermore, I haven’t the slightest clue where all the ad money went.

Wikipedia lists the budget as $45 million, which isn’t much by Hollywood standards and sounds like what this kind of cast would cost. Steve Carell does a fine job of reminding the audience that he can do drama when the need arises (Little Miss Sunshine, anyone?), and he does a decent job of making Cal relatable, even if some of his scripted humor falls flat. Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling succeeds in playing a handsome womanizer who doesn’t come off as a complete asshole. Not an easy task, but the man does it well.

As for the women, Emma Stone continues to prove herself as a worthy rising talent. She’s funny, she’s sexy, she’s smart, and did I mention that she has amazing chemistry with Gosling? Meanwhile, Marisa Tomei appears and is grossly underutilized as one of Cal’s post-separation trysts. Tomei came to this role with a staggering amount of energy and humor, which makes it all the more depressing that she didn’t get more screen time. As for Julianne Moore, I’m sorry to say that she spends the first act playing Emily as hyperactive and neurotic. This was extremely grating in a way that initially made me hate the character. Fortunately, Emily does calm down as the movie progresses and Moore is eventually given the leeway to make her character sympathetic.

Easily the weakest of the main cast is Kevin Bacon (Wow, that “six degrees” game got something like a hundred times easier this year, didn’t it?). Though all the other characters are given at least some attempt at depth, David gets none. We learn absolutely nothing about him, aside from the fact that he wants to get together with Emily. Even worse, David doesn’t even come off as a villain. There’s nothing about him to like, there’s nothing about him to hate, there’s nothing about him to know. Bacon is stuck playing a total zero of a character and it’s visibly obvious that he doesn’t know what to do with it.

In case I haven’t already made it clear, this script is not entirely worthy of its cast. I say “not entirely,” because there are some genuinely heartfelt moments in here that are made extraordinarily powerful in the hands of these actors. Unfortunately, when the movie starts monologuing about love, the results are cheesy at best (Cal) and disturbing at worst (Robbie). What’s more, the plot to this movie is depressingly predictable. There are a grand total of two plot twists in this movie, one of which was completely telegraphed in advance. The other one deserves a paragraph to itself.

The second plot twist serves as the turning point into the third act, and it’s also the event in which all three storylines collide. The result is hilarious. It was seriously the only laugh-out-loud moment in the entire movie that had me in hysterics without any guilt whatsoever. The development was so wonderfully set up and delivered that I didn’t even think about how ridiculous it all was until after I’d left the theater. See, that particular turning point was the culmination of every plotline, as they all merged together in a confluence that’s frankly remarkable. Minor and major variations in traffic alone would have thrown off the event’s timing considerably. Furthermore, it begs the question of why Jacob and Hannah arranged a meeting at that particular date and time, coinciding perfectly with Cal’s plans. Also, there was absolutely nothing to keep David from dropping by the next day or Jessica’s mom from putting the laundry away an hour later. In fact, this event raises a totally unrelated question: Why would Cal and Emily ever hire a babysitter to begin with, when… Forgive me, I’ve said too much already. And anyway, these are all questions to which I already know the answer.

The point is that the third act turning point was hilarious and wonderfully presented. In fact, it should’ve been the climax of the movie. But no. For the climax of the movie, Steve Carell hijacks his son’s middle school graduation ceremony to make a speech about love. The following is a rough transcript of what was going through my head as I was watching the climax:

Really?! We’re really doing this?! We’re really doing this. This movie is actually giving us the ‘grand climactic speech at a public event in which no one thinks to call security’ routine. I need to massage my temples for a moment, all the cliche is making my head hurt. When was the last time I saw this idiotic narrative crutch? I thought Hollywood retired it ages ago! What is Carell saying right now? No, I can’t focus on that. It just makes my head hurt more, and I already know what he’s saying anyway. ‘Love is great,’ ‘my wife is my soul mate,’ blah, blah, blah. It isn’t funny, it isn’t deep, and it isn’t remotely clever or unexpected, so why is it in the movie? Wait, that speech got applause? The screenwriters decided that this speech merited applause? Cheers from parents, kids, teachers and total strangers whose graduation ceremony has now been ruined? My eyes, my eyes, the goggles they do nothing!”

Crazy, Stupid, Love has been getting a lot of mixed reviews and it’s easy to see why. On the one hand, the cast is solid, the script has a couple of clever and/or emotionally powerful moments, and the characters (with one or two exceptions) are all nicely developed and treated with respect. On the other hand, these strengths are all buried under painful comedy, transparent storytelling, egregious product placement, pointless footwear shots, and hopelessly cliched statements about love. All the elements of a good movie are plainly here, but they’re buried to the point of suffocating under so much mediocrity.

Rent this one if you’re curious, but avoid otherwise.

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