Movie Review: Crazy, Stupid Love

 Posted by on July 27, 2011 at 10:22 am  Film
Jul 272011
 

People have been ringing the death knell of the romantic comedy for years now. As a genre, it’s cliché-ridden. It’s corny. Worst of all, it’s bland. Besides, in the age of hook-ups, does anyone still believe in love? And yet, Hollywood keeps churning them out, in different iterations, in the hopes that it can reignite some of the old black magic that masters from Lubitsch through Ephron cast on generations of moviegoers. Truth be told, no matter how cynical we may be, no one wants to quite let go of the dream that true love awaits us. That blend of thinly-veiled cynicism hiding tender romanticism might be the only viable modern take; at any rate, it’s one that “Crazy, Stupid Love”, opening this week (Friday, July 29th), explores with varied success.Long-time marrieds Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore) are on their weekly date when Emily breaks the news that she wants a divorce. As she drives a dumbstruck Cal home, Emily further reveals that she’s had an affair. Shell-shocked, Cal blurts out the news to the babysitter as soon as he gets home, unaware that their 13 year-old son Robbie is present. In another part of town, pick-up artist Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) works his moves on best friends Liz (Liza Lapira) and Hannah (Emma Stone). But Hanna sees right through his cheesy come-on lines and leaves, unimpressed.

In the meantime, Cal moves out and attempts to get over his heartbreak by hanging out at seemingly the only bar in town and pouring his heart out to everyone. It goes without saying that Cal and Jacob end up meeting and becoming buddies. For some reason not ever explained, Jacob takes it upon himself to help Cal “rediscover his manhood.” At some point in the past millennia, that might have entailed heeding the call of the wild by learning to fish and hunt, wrestling a lion to the ground with your bare hands, and deftly scalping your enemy with the edge of a sharpened stone. In our more genteel age, it largely consists of a trip to the mall for a new wardrobe, a haircut and, a key ritual, the sacrificial divestment of a pair of beloved 407 New Balance sneakers by chucking them unto the food court. (Lest you laugh, I’d like to remind you that given the number of bacteria the average pair of sneakers harbors and the high likelihood of being sued by whoever gets lobbed on the head by this projectile, this rite is not without risks). So there you go.

The crowning achievement in this endeavor is, of course, the ability to reel in pretty young ladies by affecting –without ever actually experiencing –, genuine interest and then seducing them with a signature Patrick Swayze move.  (Actually, I wonder, how many 20-somethings have actually seen Dirty Dancing, by a show of hands, please? I’m genuinely curious.) Hollywood has always succeeded at eating its cake and having it too; so this section of the movie, in which the playboy is depicted as a ridiculous, mannered lout that nevertheless inspires grudging admiration, is terrific fun. The audience ate it up. After all, who among us has not vowed to get back at a cheating lover by coldly bedding an unwitting suspect? (Not I, of course. But I won’t judge you.)

Sex as revenge, as conquest, is strangely devoid of sensuality and pleasure. The deed is the point. And so, part of the message of the film, that the utter emptiness of this existence is ultimately what renders the playboy so pathetic. Jacob is defeated via, ironically, his own heartless tactics. When Hannah’s square boyfriend Richard (Josh Groban) fails to propose, she ends up in Jacob’s deluxe bachelor pad. Hannah, being both adorable and sincere, foils his plans and they end up spending a night of genuine connection, which leads to them actually falling for one another.

At the same time, in spite of his newfound success as a smoothie, Cal realizes that he’s still in love with Emily. To its credit, the movie never goes the usual route of portraying Emily as a heartless bitch. She’s just human and, thus, prone to boredom, temptation, and confusion. I wish she were more fully written, but in the hands of the luminous and talented Julianne Moore, Emily is both sympathetic and convincing. (Moore is 50, by the way, and grows even more gorgeous with each passing year). There’s a lovely and subtly touching scene in which Cal, unwilling to let another man tend the family lawn, stops by to maintain it and ends up eavesdropping on Emily as she calls him with a fake home-maintenance problem. Longing to hear his wife’s voice just as much, he plays along.

The movie is funnier and better when it concentrates on all those little devious tricks we play to safeguard our hearts while simultaneously trying to lure the object of our affections. In my opinion, it is nearly derailed by two scenes of that obligatory Hollywood category, when characters pour out their hearts in front of an all too indulgent crowd. But the audience kept laughing, even as I cringed.

The cast is terrific, although I wish Marisa Tomei’s role weren’t so humiliating and that Kevin Bacon and Ryan Gosling had been given more to do. Don’t get me wrong, Gosling is still terrific and his torso is magnificent and beautifully lit. But, he is one of the best actors of his generation and I still can’t help but feel that he was shortchanged. And I admit that I was a little nervous that he’d be arrested for statutory rape, since the lovely and charming Emma Stone does not look a day over sixteen. As the 13 year-old son, Robbie, Johan Bobo is winning, but there is no way a teenage boy would not be furious with his mother for cheating on his father. Indeed, the movie fails at portraying normal children’s reactions at the destruction of their parents’ marriage. (For an honest and genuinely moving depiction of that, look to last year’s “The Kids Are Alright”.)

“Crazy, Stupid Love” is too long by a good 15 minutes and there is a plot twist that does not feel entirely earned, but it is still worth plunking down some cash to watch it with an audience.

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  16 Responses to “Movie Review: Crazy, Stupid Love”

  1. Perhaps there is a major typo?

    Did you mean “Crazy, Stupid Love” is actually opening Friday, 29 July? That would agree with all the ads and publicity. 29 August is a Monday.

  2. Thanks, for the heads up! I made a mistake.

  3. Thank you for this but I always urge posters on web to pls break up grafs…even if you wouldn’t make them that short in hard copy. This is just too hard to read. Thanks though!

  4. #3, do you mean you “urge posters to please break up paragraphs”?

    Do you mean authors contributing to BoK are required to follow a particular style book?

    The funny thing is did either of the Lipp sisters mention this requirement?

  5. Typo fixed.

  6. Susan, this article has 8 paragraphs and never once resorts to annoying webisms like “pls.” It passes my editorial judgment.

  7. Even though just the thought of Steve Carell makes me chuckle, and I’ve been helplessly in love with Julianne Moore since she was on “As The World Turns,” I don’t think I can sit through a romantic comedy anymore. The form has been so degraded in the last decade (all that horrible slop with Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, and Katherine Heigl). Maybe I’ll be able to steel myself enough to catch this one when it gets to cable.

  8. “Dirty Dancing” is something 20somethings know. I have friends that age, and apparently TBS and VH1 played it all the time a few years ago.

  9. Marly, thanks for the review. I suspect an audience is wonderful for a movie like this. Melville, rom-coms used to be my favorite genre and many of my favorite movies are rom-coms (It Happened One Night, Moonstruck, Four Weddings and a Funeral…). But I agree that the genre is so debased it’s hard to force yourself to enough enthusiasm to leave the house.

  10. @Retrogirl: Thanks for the response! I was genuinely curious.

    I also like to hear people’s thoughts about romantic comedies in general. By the way, Deborah, It Happened One Night still holds up after all these years. I’ve analyzed it and realized that the reason is that the entire movie is all about the bond that develops between Peter and Ellie. It’s beautifully written and very believable, even when some plot twists beg credulity.

  11. I love Ryan Gosling – a lot. And while I’m not sure I’ll run out and see this movie, I appreciated your review on it. I am curious about Emma Stone, since I like her, and will be tackling a a juicy character in “The Help,” but my love for romantic comedies usually is a wait-till-it-comes-out-Netflix, sort of thing.

  12. @ Deborah #9 and MarlyK #10

    I’ve always loved the classic romantic comedies. My Favorite Movie Ever is a romantic comedy, Holiday (1938), with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. In fact, I prefer the Grant/Hepburn pairings to Tracy/Hepburn (though Pat And Mike is pretty great). And, I agree, It Happened One Night doesn’t age at all.

    The most recent one that I can remember really liking was Notting Hill. I don’t know what went wrong after that. I’ve read plenty of theories. My own is that Hollywood has somehow lost the skill of identifying funny interesting actresses. I mean, who decided that Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, and Katherine Heigl were movie stars? Did I not get the memo? In the meantime, Marisa Tomei *(IMO more attractive, funny and talented than all three of them combined), gets only supporting roles.

    *(Oddly, I first fell in love with Marisa Tomei when she was on “As The World Turns,” too. Other actresses whom I first spotted there in the 1980’s include Meg Ryan, Parker Posey, Ming Na, singer Lauryn Hill, and writer/director Kasi Lemmons. Now there was a show that could identify interesting talented women!)

  13. @Melville: Here are some reasons why romantic comedies suck nowadays:

    * No chemistry between the protagonists. You have to WANT the two to get together.
    * Badly written characters. I hate it when something happens in a movie, just because it’s a movie and it’s supposed to happen. Like when people justified the fact that Heigl’s character never once mentions abortion in Knocked-Up, “because if she did, there’d be no movie.” Well, yeah, but you can write a scene in which we can at least understand her rationale. It’s just one scene. It wouldn’t even have to be a long one!
    * Unearned sentimentality is not sincere, just schmaltz. And these often come in the form of a very earnest, over-the-top speech. It’s grating and the audience feels played.

    Anyway, my two cents.

    • Rom-coms are mean nowadays. And they’re based on the fun frat boy meets stuck-up bitch motif. I mean, they’re very misogynist. Knocked Up is a perfect example.

  14. See, with Holiday and It Happened One Night, you really 100% believe that these two characters really enjoy the hell out of each other AND understand each other in a fundamental way that no one else does. In fact, the entire plot of Holiday is built on that premise; if anything, Hepburn understands Grant so deeply that she can’t understand how the rest of her family doesn’t.

    If you don’t write the scenes that establish the basis of this understanding, please don’t take the easy way out by having the characters TALK about how much they get one another.

    After all, in real life, when your partner genuinely does not get something fundamental about you, it’s infuriating as hell when s/he maintains and insists that s/he does. Saying doesn’t make it so. And that, right there, might be the reason that modern romantic comedies in the past 10 years sucks: Very very few have bothered to write true rapport between the protagonists. Sadly enough, very often the characters don’t even seem to enjoy each other’s company, much less really get where they’re coming from. Anyone who’s had a lousy marriage can tell you that when that happens, you feel lonelier than when you’re alone. And yet we’re supposed to believe that these two are soulmates?

    And never mind sharing a moment of genuine tenderness and caring, like the very many instances in which Gable takes care of Colbert in It Happened One Night. The beautiful thing about that movie, the reason it’s still fresh, is that you see these two characters completely change as they interact with one another. She brings out his tender side and he brings out her sense of adventure and independence. They both become much more enjoyable people for the audience and their camaraderie IS the source of the comedy.

  15. Went on a date w/the spouse Saturday – suggested this film and “Cowboys & Aliens”. He selected the rom-com. Surprised me, but he likes ‘people movies’ and isn’t blown over by special effects. While there were weak moment in the film, we had a discount coupon and it was good to get out & laugh together.

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