If nothing else, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is about being kicked in the nuts by love, and all of the fucked up things people do in the pursuit—how they go after it, how they try to keep it, and how they cope when it crumbles into shit at their feet. It’s not quite a comedy, not quite a drama, not quite a romance, and the story can be convoluted and is full of unearned coincidences and pseudo-shocking reveals at moments of heightened dramatic tension. What carries it through, however, keeping it from falling into tedious mediocrity, is the intelligence of the script, the strong, distinctive characters, and the cast. This is an earnest look at a man doing his level best to pick up the shards of his ruined life. Even when the characters are doing horrible, horrible things to each other, the actors have a charisma and an onscreen chemistry that makes it watchable.
After 25 years of marriage, Emily (Julianne Moore) dumps her husband, Cal (Steve Carell). She slept with Kevin Bacon. Not Kevin Bacon Kevin Bacon, but a guy named David Lindhagen, played by Kevin Bacon. Cal is a schlub who has lost sight of himself, his wife, and his marriage, blindly assuming that everything is a-ok just because it always has been. After this rude awakening he takes to hanging out at a local hotspot, boring everyone to tears with his sob story. Jacob (Ryan Gosling) is a womanizing lothario who frequents the same bar as Cal. In Jacob’s world women are idiots and exist solely to be tricked into banging him. Carell does what he does best, play an awkward, heart-on-his-sleeve average Joe, only this time he brings a twinge of bitterness along for the ride. Gosling should be a target of hatred and disdain, but he brings a likeability and magnetism to his part that makes it difficult to stay mad at him for too long. And Moore gives some depth to what is essentially a throwaway role. Women come so easily to Jacob that he takes Cal under his wing, gives him a makeover—a quick spit shine, a suit up, and a haircut—and turns Cal into an older version of himself, playing coach on the sidelines.
Along side of Cal and Emily’s drama are a number of subplots. Cal’s son is in love with the babysitter, who in turn is in love with Cal; David Lindhagen is after Emily; and Hannah (Emma Stone), a soon-to-be-lawyer, is in a relationship with the most bland, ultra-vanilla man in the history of ever, played by adult-contemporary-soft-rocker Josh Grobin. While there are some high points—the scenes between Gosling and Carell are gold, one’s misogynistic optimism playing against the other’s spurned cynicism—the digressions don’t always flow well from scene to scene, giving the pace a choppy, uneven feel at times. All of the actual scenes are entertaining enough on their own, but the pieces of the puzzle don’t always fit together smoothly.
The story is predictable, especially if you’ve ever seen any cinematic romance. But like I said, there is an overwhelming bitterness. Every time things look up for anyone, love tears out their heart and craps all over it. That is really the underlying message of “Crazy, Stupid, Love”, that sometimes love will bludgeon you with the windmill from a mini-golf course.
There are some attempts to give “Crazy, Stupid, Love” an edge, with lines like Jacob telling Cal that, “The skin under your eyes looks like Hugh Hefner’s ball sack”, and Gosling waving his schlong around in Carell’s face for a couple of scenes. But the PG-13 rating keeps it from getting too raunchy, and the humor is generally pretty tame. Marisa Tomei does a fun turn as Cal’s first post-marriage conquest, and she, too, brings a derisive sharpness to her part. The underlying message of “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is that love is a ruthless bastard that will stamp on your heart and spit in your face, and just because you love someone, doesn’t mean it will work out. Despite how things may or may not end up, the movie is a cynical, bitter look at romance. Not “Blue Valentine” bitter, but it is not the rosy, optimistic version of film love that a lot of people who will see this movie will be expecting.
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” tries to be an ensemble film, with a bunch of threads that ultimately come together through a bunch of hidden connections. When the film jumps from strand to strand it can be a bit jarring, and after awhile it becomes a jumble of unrelated subplots and bogs down the pace. It feels overly long at 118-minutes, and probably could have been trimmed down some for streamlining purposes. While this is one of the film’s greatest weaknesses, it is the cast, from top to bottom, and their chemistry and magnetism, coupled with the constant dream crushing, is what keeps the film moving forward.
Sweet and earnest and bitter, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is, at it’s center, a romance and a comedy (though not an actual romantic comedy), which I assume will probably keep any of you still reading from watching this film, but it is smart, cynical, and pessimistic enough that it may actually be worth your while to give it a chance.