Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Spoiler alert-o-meter: A few spoilers ahead. As much as I'd like to give away the ending, I won't.

Love sucks. Love is like oxygen. Love is a drug. Love like wine. Love like blood. Eternal love. Put it all together and what do you get? Love that is both Crazy and Stupid. Crazy, Stupid, Love (CSL), the movie, wants it every way it can get it. It’s selfish and greedy. It’s romantic and realistic. It plays tricks but means well. It takes you to bed but makes you coffee in the morning and calls you later to see how your day’s going. 

Steve Carell plays Cal, a shlubby corporate drone whose wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), sneaks off to the movies by herself when she’s not having an affair with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon). Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling plays chick magnet Jacob who falls for a pretty girl, Hannah (Emma Stone), who is the first to turn him down. At least initially. And so after they do get together he realizes she’s the first girl he wants to commit to.

What do these two disparate couples have in common? After Emily leaves Cal, he ends up at the same singles bar where Jacob plies his trade. Jacob takes pity on Cal and sees a chance to use his talents in a new way. He gives Cal a makeover by taking him clothes shopping and giving him some rules for picking up the ladies.

Carell makes a good schlub, has made a career out of it. Yet he cleans up nice, too. Part of the fun of watching Carell is his reaction to his surprising success with the ladies. CSL is like the 40-Year Old Virgin all grown up. Carell’s Cal is a good guy who married very early. His wife thinks their marriage has run its course, but he still pines for her.

The movie's most touching moments show Cal sneaking over to the house he used to live in to water the grass and trim the hedges, all the while peering longingly through the dining room window at Emily and their two kids. Julianne Moore is stuck in a thankless role of the wife who cheats. But, she’s just confused and feels her marriage has stopped offering her anything. She’s not a villain, nobody is. But she’s no saint, and nobody else is either. That’s the point. Love is all kinds of things, mostly messy, complicated, and with a horrible sense of timing.

Meanwhile, Cal’s son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is madly in love with his babysitter, Jessica (played with a clumsy, swanlike grace by former America’s Next Top Model contestant Analeigh Tipton), who, in turn,  is in love with Cal. This is the touchiest, sloppiest type of love the movie has to offer. But CSL isn’t interested (much) in titillation, and doesn’t stray into this potentially cringy area of love – namely underage lust and inappropriate love.

How this all gets resolved is part of the fun of this movie. So, who am I to spill all the many beans? I’ll just say that there’s a kind of trick ending, a pre-ending ending that plays a card that is the trick of the movie. I don’t like tricks. If this movie were a book, and I read this penultimate scene, I would be mad at the book for withholding information from the reader. But movies, while they often pale next to their literary counterparts, can get away with these sleights of hand. Movies are often told from an omniscient perspective. And here CSL gets away with it.

What I like about the trick is that it plays out over a scene that, in any other romantic comedy, would be the final scene in which everybody makes up and goes off happy. Here, this scene devolves into chaos and happiness seems farther out of each character’s reach. It’s a wink to the audience, letting us know that it’s smart enough not to give in so easily. It then moves on to the real final scenes, where, while the bow is not wrapped so precisely or so prettily, it manages wraps a lot of the movie’s loose ends up satisfyingly.

Still, as I left the theater I was wondering how the story would have played out if this trick wasn’t played. Or had been played earlier in movie. But CSL is still a good night at the movies, and it’s nice to see a rom-com that treats its characters with some respect. The actors help a hell of a lot to make this watchable.

All the couples have chemistry together; absolutely necessary to any movie even scratching the surface of romance. Ryan Gosling plays a good lunkhead with a hot bod and an apparent heart of gold. Emma Stone turns on the charm and it seems that whoever she aims it at reciprocates with the right chemical mixture. Steve Carell and Julianne Moore are a realistic and likeable couple. You want everybody to be happy, but if getting a divorce falls under the happiness moniker, then let’s not get picky about how to define a happy ending.


Theater location: The Island, Oak Bluffs, Thursday, August 11th, 7:00 pm. Viewed with Liz! Snack: Tire Tread Red Licorice.

Coming Attractions:

Change Up.It's already released and tanked. Nothing more to see here. Move along.

The Help. A young white woman interviews a small southern town's worth of black maids to tell their story. Feathers get ruffled. Some people hate it. Some people love it. 


Liz's Mom said...

This sounds like a very enjoyable movie. It certainly is an enjoyable review, one of your best, thoughtful, funny, witty,and honest.

Dell Smith said...

Why, thank you Liz's Mom!

Robin said...

Dell -- I saw this movie Sat. night and enjoyed it. There were moments of sweetness and even sadness that you don't usually see in modern romantic comedies. Some of it was a iittle over the top (I've never witnessed a parent-teacher conference like that one!!) but, in the end, I'm glad I went. Fun to see good actors having fun with a lively script, too.