Stupid Crazy Love suffers a bit from being a tad inconsistent, fluctuating between compelling character drama and well-observed romantic comedy. It isn’t an issue that movie fails at either of these, it just runs into a bit of bother bouncing between the two extremes. The ending might be a little trite, and a tad conventional, but the movie manages to raise some interesting ideas along the way. Still, it allows Steve Carell his best big screen appearance since The 40-Year-Old Virgin and makes for an alternatingly side-splittingly and heart-breakingly affecting movie.
Love in twenty-first century is a complicated thing. We say that as if it were ever simple. Steve Carell plays Carl, a forty-something man who sees his life thrown into turmoil when his wife declares over dinner that she wants a divorce. Thrown out into the big bad world, getting his own place and trying to pick up the pieces, a local lothario takes Carl under his wings. Jacob is a pick-up artist extraordinaire, brought to life with a casual charm by Ryan Gosling. He’s sleazy and cheeky, but affectionately so. Taking pity on the lost and lonely Carl, he vows to help the divorcee get his game back.
That’s a rough outline of the set-up. Along the way, the expansive and impressive cast fall in and out of love with one another, with interesting overlaps and complications, surreal developments and occasional moments of awkward hilarity. The movie seems to take a large amount pleasure in the old-fashioned “identity reveal” twists that we used to see in comedies like this. You know that trick, where an earlier character is suddenly reintroduced in a new role or with a new and hitherto unexpected relationship to another character, creating a wonderfully squirm-inducing social situation. The film pulls the trick twice. Once as a straight-up gag with a wonderful punchline, and again as a major dramatic twist that changes the fundamental relationships.
That’s both the strength and the weakness of the script from Dan Fogelman. It has moments of sheer blissful laughter, and then darker soul-wretching dramatic moments. There are times when this dissonance works to the movie’s advantage, to be sure. The movie certainly feels more substantial than most romantic comedies, because of the added dramatic heft. However, it also undermines the movie slightly. It takes some getting used to, as we move from a scene that could be taken from a Judd Atapow movie to something played completely and unapologetically straight. For the most part, once the film gets going, it does work much better than most other romantic comedies.
And while I appreciate the extra weight that Fogelman’s script gives to the romantic comedy, I feel almost disappointed with the fairly conventional ending, which seems to reaffirm the standard Hollywood romantic comedy conventions. The film doesn’t reach any uncomfortable conclusions, with the final twenty minutes playing it relatively safe. I know that’s not entirely unexpected, but the film seemed so quirky and well-observed up until that point that I almost hoped Fogelman might dare to throw a curveball or at least stick to some of the guns raised in the movie’s rather bold mid-section.
Still, that’s a minor complaint, because most of the film works quite well. Part of it is down to Fogelman’s dialogue, the wonderful interactions of characters who seem like real people. Of course, there’s also the fact that lines are being read by a truly wonderful cast, composed of actors who have often managed to elevate much lesser material. The cast features Steve Carell, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei and John Carroll Lynch, and they all do a wonderful job. Stone in particular is developing into quite a talent, and I look forward to a long career ahead of her.
Carell in particular demonstrates considerable dramatic ability. He feels comfortable here, with a healthy dose of comedy playing to the strengths that we all know he has. It grants him a sort of a comfort zone, something he can fall back on, and makes him feel just a bit more comfortable with the more earnest moments in the screenplay. I’m not convinced that Carell quite has the dramatic chops that Jim Carrey has demonstrated, but he does some of his best work in quite some time in this film.
Equally impressive is Ryan Gosling as the womanising Jacob. Gosling is a wonderfully intense young actor, but he seems overjoyed to be involved in a movie that doesn’t feature him brutally murdering somebody or trying to blackmail a corrupt politician. While Carell is a comedian demonstrating great dramatic range, Gosling is a dramatic actor having a great deal of fun in a quirky supporting role. It’s a joy to watch Carell and Gosling interact, as the former “Miyagi-es” the latter.
Crazy, Stupid Love isn’t perfect, but it’s solid. It is mostly well-written, featuring a superb cast, clearly enjoying what they’re doing. It’s the most enjoyable straight-forward romantic comedy I’ve seen in quite some time, one that actually manages to engage its audience with some interesting ideas about the nature of romance in the twenty-first century. It might have its flaws, but you’d be either crazy or stupid to miss it.
Filed under: Non-Review Reviews Tagged: | 40 Year Old Virgin, Crazy Stupid Love, Dan Fogelman, Emma Stone, film, jacob, John Carroll Lynch, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei, Movie, non-review review, review, romance, Romantic comedy film, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, steve carrell