Crazy, Stupid, Love.

2011, Movie, PG-13, 117 mins

Review

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There are few genres as maligned as the romantic comedy -- and deservedly so, since the traditional “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back” structure has fossilized into an overly familiar formula that few writers and directors have been able to crack open. Thanks to Dan Fogelman’s beautifully constructed script, a peerless comedic ensemble, and ideal pacing by directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Crazy, Stupid, Love. subverts our expectations without denying us the laughs.

Steve Carell stars as Cal, who learns in the opening scene that his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), wants a divorce after over two decades of marriage, in part because she had sex with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon). Still pining for his wife, Cal starts drinking nightly at a local singles bar, where he meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), an expert ladies’ man who walks out of the place with a different woman every night. Jacob takes pity on Cal and gives him lessons in seduction.

Meanwhile, soon-to-be lawyer Hannah (Emma Stone) realizes she may not be in love with her safe, steady, boring boyfriend (a perfectly cast Josh Groban), and seeks out Jacob at that bar even though she turned down his initial pick-up attempt weeks before. Now, the man who has structured every interaction in his life in order to avoid commitments is afraid he’s ready to commit, and needs advice from his pal Cal.

At its heart, Crazy, Stupid, Love. has a jaundiced -- though not necessarily inaccurate -- take on the battle of the sexes in 2011; love isn’t dead by any means, but this is a movie about how hard it is to love somebody rather than how easy it is. What’s remarkable about the film is that while it’s so very truthful about the darkest elements of its subject, it never ceases being funny. The characters’ desires and their flaws are universal, but the sharp dialogue and impeccable comedic timing of the actors make these characters unique.

There’s a superb sequence where Hannah and Jacob have their first night together, and while their impromptu date seems to take up a long stretch of the movie, the directors shoot their pillow talk in a series of short scenes that, when taken together, give us a kaleidoscope effect of a perfect night -- the kind of night where two people really do become soul mates. Sure, it helps to have actors as talented as Gosling and Stone, but full credit must go to everyone involved for making us believe in love even when the movie itself never flinches from how painful that condition can get.

And it’s not just the main characters that get all the good scenes, or all the heartbreak. Emily and Cal’s 13-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), has it bad for his 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who herself is obsessed with Cal. The movie has as much respect for the difficulties of teenage love as it does for the adult version. Bobo holds his own in the comedic-timing department with an expert like Carell, and Tipton makes her insecure teen a lovely portrait of incipient womanhood.

Although the movie focuses primarily on the men, the women are far from shortchanged. Moore captures the horror and regret of what she’s done as well as the pressing need to have ended her marriage, Marisa Tomei gets huge laughs as the first of Cal’s conquests as a single man, and Liza Lapira lands ceaseless comedic jabs as Hannah’s best friend.

Everybody in the film makes the most of Dan Fogelman’s close-to-perfect screenplay. He does a great job of mixing in one-liners with setups that don’t pay off until much later, all the while staying true to the characters by never shying away from the terror or the joys of love. The end of the movie satisfies, but hours or days later you just might think to yourself that while you left the movie giddy with pleasure, you’re still not sure the characters will end up as happy as you did. leave a comment --Perry Seibert

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