by Rick Hamilton
Crazy, Stupid, Love. is, at its core, a modern day Restoration Comedy. All the hallmarks are there: sexual themes, multiple interlocking stories, topical references (though the Ashton/Demi split already dates one of these) and cuckolded husbands (in fact, the film may just bring that word back into the public lexicon). The ensemble piece, led by Steve Carell, Julianne Moore and Ryan Gosling and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, centers on sex, love, those who have it, those that want it and those who don’t know where to look for it.
The film has a bit of a slow start—if love is crazy and stupid, its path can meander for long stretches as often as it twists—but once it gets going and the stories fully intertwine, it’s completely engaging. At one pivotal moment, it had me laughing and crying at the same time—not an easy task.
Carell and Moore’s 25-year marriage has been grinding to a halt and she wants a divorce. But the passion that’s obviously been missing for years in their relationship is also void in their breakup. It’s both compelling to watch and deeply unsettling: she uses as little effort to tell her husband she wants out of their marriage as he does to get out of their moving car to keep from hearing it. Before long, Gosling has taken Carell under his wing to turn him into a man that she will want to take back. Ficarra and Requa bypass the standard montage for this inevitable transformation with quick edits and short jokes, cumulating in a masterful long “take” of Carell with various women at a bar.
Ficarra and Requa have a subtle way with the glaringly obvious. The opening shot of couples in a restaurant playing footsie under the tables comes to rest on those that don’t. A picture falls to the floor and shatters just as the marriage does. When an idea dawns on the couple’s babysitter, it does so quite literally. But these shots that should come across as trite have a special touch to them that keep them fresh. An overnight conversation is shown without regard to its linear structure, magnifying the feeling of the couple talking all night long.
Tributes go to Dan Fogelman’s script as well, which starts with loose ends that slowly weave together. For all that happens in the film, there really isn’t much of a plot. It’s mostly about the different relationships among all the characters. It helps that the chemistry among the cast is outstanding and perfectly suited to their roles. If Carell has a tendency to rely on some of his usual shtick at times, he’s grounded in his scenes with his co-stars. In particular, his rapport with Moore is delightful—at various times angry, fistful or witty. Her role may be the least defined on the page, but she brings her usual complexity to the screen, creating a woman so desperate to find something she can’t quite identify. Gosling is excellent as the ladies’ man, whose charming exterior conceals a much more vulnerable side. These three are joined by Emma Stone as a law student, the only one immune to Gosling’s charm; Marissa Tomei, in a spirited and hysterical performance; Analeigh Tipton as the babysitter who’s the object of desire of Carell’s teenage son: a very earnest Jonah Bobo. There’s not a weak link among the entire ensemble.
Even at its most sentimental, the movie avoids becoming mush; and at its most ridiculous, it avoids seeming unrealistic. It’s an excellent film that would hold up to multiple viewings, continuing to delight each time.