CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, and Jonah Bobo. Directed by Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa. Rated M (Sexual references and infrequent coarse language). 118 min.
This is a romantic, dramatic comedy about love. Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is a settled executive of no great distinction, who discovers to his amazement that his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore) is having an affair with a married work colleague, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), and she wants to divorce him after 25 years. Life has been comfortable for Cal, who has a secure job, a wife he thought was faithful to him, a precocious son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), and a nice home. The news of his wife falling out of love with him catapults him into depression, and he goes seeking solace in whatever ways he can find.
At its heart, this is a film about the romantic goings-on of a group of people that interact, influence each other's lives, run away from each other, and return to influence each other again in one form or another, mostly in tangled relationships. The film illustrates that love is not actually crazy and stupid, but the people who seek love out, and experience it, sometimes are.
Carell's comic flair and timing anchor the film, but the circumstances that push and pull the characters together and apart are not convincing. By way of illustration, Cal, who is on the rebound, is befriended by Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), the film's highly buffed sex-icon and resident womaniser, who teaches Cal how to seduce women, a fact Emily learns to her disgust. She can't believe that one of the nine women Cal has seduced since they parted is Robbie's teacher at school. In the meantime, Hannah (Emma Stone), his daughter, is attracted to Jacob. On the rebound herself, Hannah attempts to seduce Jacob, after first rejecting him in a singles bar, and she becomes the love in life that Jacob has always been looking for. There is a chaotic and melodramatic finale to the movie, when Cal publicly declares his love for Emily at Robbie's eight-grade graduation. Emily, is complimented by his declaration, while at the graduation Emily's teenage baby-sitter (who "loves" Cal) gives naked photographs of herself to Robbie (who "loves" her) to make sure Robbie's attraction to her stays alive while he grows up from being just 13 years of age. Following the graduation, Emily looks as if she will come back to Cal, re-kindling her past love for him, but we can't be certain she will.
The shallowness of it all is obvious. One of the surprising things about the film, is that for a movie with these kinds of values, the sex scenes in it are so restrained. The film's plot is too involved to give the movie any real sense of coherence. The film had the potential to provide a dark, comic look at modern marriage in America, or to present contemporary variations of male sexual crises, but it doesn't do either. In the end, it becomes a modern-day take on the manners of Hollywood's version of contemporary love, and it's various error-prone and complicated routines. But the scripting by Dan Fogelman is witty, and Steve Carell and others in the cast are given some wonderful lines. Also, there are some clever comic scenes, such as Cal's and Jacob's take-off of the classic romantic film, "Pretty Woman" (1990), where the two men embark on a money spending shopping-spree at the high end of town to parade their maleness.
The movie is courageous enough to tackle the various disappointments of life that most romantic comedies choose to steer away from, but the morals underneath it are a mess, as they parallel the ups and downs of the lives that the film's characters lead. The constant womanising that occurs throughout the movie ensures that morality is never put back in place, even at the end of the film, when Emily and Cal look to come together again.
The movie is stylishly produced and very well acted. If one places the film's questionable moral values to the side, its comic potential is helped enormously by a terrifically talented cast. Love in this movie, however, is a torturous and chancy process, and experiences of genuine loving are a long way from what this movie shows in order to entertain.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out September 29, 2011.