Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Now I know what you're thinking. Why is Weird Movie Village reviewing a romcom? Well, we've tackled other genres before, and I deemed this film worth blogging about because it rises head-and-shoulders above others in the genre.

Let me say first of all that I am not a typical romcom-type person. I'm the wrong demographic (male) and I usually find them to be cliched, boring and often rather icky. Among the romcom screenings I've attended (I don't pay to see them!) were Going the Distance, with Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, which was pretty awful; the smash-hit Bridesmaids, which actually nauseated me; and No Strings Attached, another piece of crap and a puzzlingly banal step down for Natalie Portman, fresh off her Oscar win for Black Swan. Well, she also did Thor after that, too, but at least that one was kind of fun.

So today I went into Crazy, Stupid, Love. with absolutely no expectations whatsoever and only a rudimentary idea about the plot. I already liked the work of Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore, but after his great work in Little Miss Sunshine, I thought Steve Carell had sunk to sort of a second-string Jim Carrey (ooh, that's harsh!) in dreck like Dinner for Schmucks. So imagine my surprise from the very first scene when Moore's Emily tells Carell's Cal that she wants a divorce—and it's not a gag. My audience, trained to hoot with laughter at every line, soon calmed down when it realized that nobody was going to shit their pants or fall down a flight of stairs for yocks. Instead, Crazy, Stupid, Love. is that rare comedy that breathes real life into its characters and earns its laughs.

Short synopsis: Cal and Emily Weaver have been married for 25 years. During a miserable dinner date, she suddenly announces that she wants a divorce. As they're driving home, she admits that she'd had an affair with a co-worker, and he responds by jumping out of their moving car. Later, nursing his wounds at a bar, he repeatedly pours out his story of woe to anyone within earshot, drawing the attention of slick ladies' man Jacob Palmer (Gosling). Seomthing about Cal's plight appeals to Jacob's sympathy. He bluntly tells Cal that he's let his looks and self-esteem go to hell, and he wants to help him get both of them back. Cal reluctantly goes along.

With new clothes, a new haircut and a new outlook, he becomes Jacob's acolyte, smooth-talking the ladies and scoring regularly. But just as he has begun to make good in the singles scene, Jacob meets Hannah (Emma Stone), a young law student. For the first time in his life he wants to have a committed relationship, leaving Cal alone at the bar and longing to be reunited with his estranged wife. Eventually, all the characters collide, but I thought it worked.

I'd seen Stone before in Superbad and The House Bunny, but she really has a chance to shine as Hannah. She's got screwball timing and large, expressive eyes.

In a memorable scene, after being spurned by her unctuous boyfriend (Josh Groban!), whom she thought was going to propose to her, Hannah gets blasted, goes to Jacob's regular hangout and picks him up. At his house, she drunkenly orders him to take off his shirt, and when he complies, exposing his perfectly chiseled torso, she says, "Fuck! Seriously? It's like you're Photoshopped!" Instead of having sex, they spend the night getting to know each other. Sounds cliched, but the scene really works.

Another standout in the cast is Jonah Bobo as the Weavers' 13-year-old son, Robbie. He's desperately in love with his 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who is in turn in love with Cal. Robbie is also wise beyond his years, maneuvering to get his parents back together.

Moore is always good, and she serves as an emotional barometer here, but she gets her share of laughs, too. Trying to explain to Cal what led up to her decision to ask for a divorce, she says, "When I told you I had to work late, I really went to the new Twilight movie by myself. And it was so ba-a-a-d!"

I have to admit that I'm sucker for movies that have nonsensical, off-the-cuff lines like that one. At one point during her first night with Jacob, Hannah impersonates Lauren Bacall in an old High Point coffee commercial. It doesn't make any sense—it's just funny.

Marisa Tomei has a small but energetic role as a woman who goes home with Cal because she's turned on by his pathetic honesty. He promises to call her and never does, but they have an unfortunate reunion at a parent-teacher conference—witnessed by Emily—when she turns out to be Robbie's math teacher!

Kevin Bacon also appears as the slightly slimy co-worker Emily had slept with, and there's an amusing scene in which he tries to make nice with Robbie, only to be slapped down by the kid. I don't know if singer Groban has decided to start a second career as an actor here or if this was just an amusing cameo, but it is bizarre to see him.

Gosling has done a lot of good work in the past, especially in intense dramas like Half-Nelson and Blue Valentine, but Love gives him a chance to exhibit a Cary Grant-ish vibe as a womanizer you really should despise but who's just so damn charming.

And I'm so glad to see Carell do good work. Here he eschews the tired old ridiculous mugging to give us a character who, upon facing divorce from the only love he's ever known, is authentically in crisis. Some of his hesitant deliveries reach Bob Newhart-like heights, and I mean that as a compliment.

I'm not going to put any spoilers in here, but let's just say there are some twists and turns that aren't the freshest in the genre, but here they really work, and some scenes that could've been cliched are hilarious and well-realized. Unlike Bridesmaids, which lurched between attempted authentic emotion and cartoonish ridiculousness, Love's creators never let us forget that we're dealing with actual people here. I actually had to do some research to see if the screenplay had been based on an earlier French film, but no. All I have to say to directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and screenwriter Dan Fogelman, "Well done!"

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