2011 hasn’t been a great year for mainstream comedies. While Kirstin Wiig’s Bridesmaids, Attack The Block and Friends With Benefits prove to be exceptions, on the other side of the ledger are abominations like Hall Pass, Big Mommas 3 and Zookeeper (a world in which Adam Sandler’s production company Is loose is not safe).
Crazy, Stupid, Love goes some way to redressing the balance as it’s a smart and frequently surprising comedy drama with an excellent cast.
Steve Carell stars as Cal, a husband and father who is left devastated after his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) reveals that she’s been having an affair with a co-worker and wants a divorce. After attempting to drown his sorrows in a bar and subsequently spilling his story to anyone that will listen (nobody), he’s approached by Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a suited and booted pick up artist who takes him under his wing and teaches him how to score with women.
After a few false starts, Cal gets his game on and armed with a cracking new wardrobe and the art of seduction, Cal gets lucky with fellow divorcee Kate (Marisa Tomei) and subsequently picks up half a dozen women. However, he quickly realises that he’s still in love with his wife and vows to get her back.
Meanwhile Jacob unexpectedly falls for Hannah (Emma Stone), a smart talking graduate lawyer – the only woman immune to his smooth patter and Cal’s teenage son Robbie falls in love with his babysitter while unaware that she’s got the hots for his dad.
Steve Carell has made a career out of playing lovable losers and is on top form here. Sitting in the bar, dejectedly telling patrons about his problems while they don’t even bother to feign interest is heartbreaking; it’s like someone’s cut the strings holding him up.
Ryan Gosling is rapidly on the rise to superstardom, what with the magnificent Blue Valentine released earlier this year and the excellent Drive also out this week. Here he’s superb as Jacob – well-dressed, supremely confident and with abs that you could crack rocks on, he’s got enough charm to turn a complete douche into a lovable scoundrel.
He has great chemistry with Emma Stone, whose star is also on a quick ascent (after 2010’s hilarious Easy A and the soon to be released The Help). Stone is also outstanding – she’s a gifted comedy actress who’s not afraid to look unattractive. The result is actually the opposite – not only do her characters seem more believable for their flaws but because she’s funny, she’s actually all the more compelling.
Crazy, Stupid, Love stays firmly in predictable comedy territory for its first third; as good as Carell is at playing lovable losers, doing it again isn’t in itself worthy of too much comment. Thankfully, once it warms up it executes some clever and unexpected turns which are both hilarious and genuine. It actually benefits from a slower start – characters are given time to mature and develop and this makes a satisfying break from the frenetic pace that many comedies serve up.
The script by Dan Fogelman (known mainly for his work on Disney / Pixar’s Cars, Bolt and Tangled) is careful with its characterisation. So while people do questionable things, it doesn’t define them. Emily cheating on Cal is wrong but she’s still open to the possibility of redemption. Similarly Kevin Bacon (in a great cameo as the worker who Emily cheats with) could easily have been made out to be the villain of the piece but is also credibly three dimensional.
Unfortunately, the film’s about 20 minutes too long and every single one of those minutes should have been chopped off the ending which seems like it was tacked on to appease a bad reaction to a screen test. Prior to this is a riotous garden scene which would have served as a superb finale but Crazy, Stupid, Love doesn’t know when to stop, adding a cringingly awful public declaration of love and a trite tying up of loose ends which is completely out of step with the rest of the film.
Nevertheless, it’s a fly in the ointment which can be overlooked in a film which up till that point is consistently funny, smart and carefully steers around (and has fun with inverting) common comedy tropes. Highly recommended.