Very often, the romantic comedy survives on formula and inevitability. Not that that necessarily makes it less successful – it’s worked well for many a good movie. Nonetheless, it’s admirable to see Crazy, Stupid, Love trying something more ambitious with the genre. Rather than the usual two-hander, rom-com responsibility is here handed to a talented and very consistent ensemble cast; the plot, meanwhile, is an intricate mix of several different threads.
Cal (Steve Carell) is a forty-something loser with a forty-something loser haircut who dresses in forty-something loser clothes. When his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) tearfully asks for a divorce, citing her own infidelity, Cal finds himself hooking up with habitual ladykiller Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who teaches him how to dress, drink and flirt. But Jacob’s own effortless technique starts to come unstuck when he meets straight-talking lawyer Hannah (Emma Stone). Meanwhile Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is harbouring a crush of his own on his four-years-older babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) – but she’s secretly in love with Cal.
There’s a lot going on in the movie, and while the plotlines don’t gel together quite as evenly as they might, the handling of so many elements generally feels well-balanced and well-paced – allowing for a pretty steady flow of laughs. The jokes aren’t likely to make you hysterical (although there are one or two killer comedy twists), but that’s because Crazy, Stupid, Love‘s aim is towards something engaging and appealing rather than side-splitting and outrageous.
That may be reflected in the choice of cast, because while comedy may be Carell’s natural home it’s perhaps more unusual to see Moore and Gosling sidle into rom-com territory. Luckily they both put in impressive comic turns, though Moore’s character, struggling with the guilt of an affair and mixed feelings for high-school sweetheart Cal, naturally lends itself to a more subdued performance.
That Crazy, Stupid, Love resists portraying Emily as merely a cheating, marriage-wrecking bitch indicates the secret of the film’s success: every single character is likeable. You’re rooting for Cal, you’re concerned for Emily, you’re charmed by Jacob (it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman – trust us, you’ll be won over). Even Kate (Marisa Tomei), the reformed-alcoholic English teacher Cal sleeps with – thus unleashing a torrent of psychopathic rage – is tuned to kooky, rather than malicious. The only character with hints of cartoon villainy is Emily’s co-worker David (Kevin Bacon), with whom she cheated. But even he is well-meaning, kind of. And in any case, there’s a reason Bacon so often plays the bad guy: people love him anyway.
True malevolence of any kind is an alien concept to this deeply amiable piece. It doesn’t even stoop to the gross-out scene, considered by many a comedy of the last five years to be nothing short of obligatory. It’s not laugh-yourself-sick hilarious, nor is it can’t-get-it-out-your-head memorable. But it is sweet, sincere and very, very funny.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is in cinemas 23rd September 2011.
Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Stars: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
Runtime: 118 minutes