Silver Screen: Crazy, Stupid, Love **
“They're still making kids read The Scarlet Letter?” Julianne Moore's woman-in-midlife-crisis character asks her son in Crazy, Stupid, Love. “Hasn't anybody written anything better?”
That's a brassy line for a movie as abysmally written as Crazy, Stupid, Love, an intermittently agonizing parade of cliché s and character types that exist only in the world of cinema. This resolutely unromantic romantic comedy squanders an excellent cast through a series of tired and tiresome scenarios that largely exist to service a final-act twist that tries to lend the too-familiar storylines a veneer of unity, when in fact the big reveal at the end serves only as a distraction from the last humdrum hour and forty minutes.
Steve Carell stars as Cal, a likeable but boring character whose generic suburban travails render him dull not only to his restless wife Emily (Moore), but the audience as well. She bangs a smarmy coworker (Kevin Bacon) and then asks Cal for a divorce, a request he dutifully grants. Now single, lonely, and out on the town, he hangs out at a bar and strikes up an unlikely friendship with local lothario Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Jacob promises to fix Cal up-- insert inevitable shopping montage-- and teach him to meet women.
The family romantic troubles even extend to their teenage son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), who nurses a secret crush on his pretty seventeen-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). He reveals his secret and is politely spurned, which inspires him to try to win her affection with ever more grandiose gestures. Our lovely babysitter, meanwhile, is infatuated with an older man-- Cal.
Meanwhile, Gosling's rakish Jacob finds himself inexplicably vulnerable around a beautiful but high-strung law student, Hannah (Emma Stone).
Crazy, Stupid, Love drifts along, following four tangentially related but isolated stories, spending seemingly arbitrary amounts of time on each, before that big reveal at the end, in which the film positions itself as The Usual Suspects of romantic comedies. The twist at the end definitely comes as a surprise, mostly because it's a fairly silly and unnecessary turn that adds nothing to the story and is also viable only through the cheap tricks of limited perspective and a lot of implausible vagueness in the dialogue. The twist ending becomes the conclusion to all the individual stories, even when some of the plotlines never went anywhere in the first place.
The plot twist doesn’t sink the movie, though, any more than it could save it. The root problem is that the script strikes nearly all false notes, and none of the characters ring true. Cal and Emily's sudden and very chaotic divorce is delivered almost as a punchline, and their two young children-- a fourteen-year-old and a pre-teen-- react almost nonchalantly, as if their lives aren't at all affected. It helps to quietly validate the parents' selfishness, it's only one among a host of misfires with the child characters, who are clumsily written. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman falls into the classic trap of trying to make his young characters sound unique and smart by simply writing their dialogue as if they were adults. Meanwhile, it's hard to tell what's more implausible: that a fourteen-year-old boy would try to get the attention of a girl by constructing an elaborate set and acting out a scene from The Scarlet Letter, or that the girl in question would be attracted to middle-aged middle-manager Cal, whose own storyline casts him as fatally dull.
Despite the strong cast-- Carell does nice work, as does newcomer Tipton, along with underused bit players Bacon, Marisa Tomei, and Beth Littleford-- the only part of the movie that actually works is the relationship between Jacob and Hannah. The storyline is easily the movie's most uninspired, but Gosling and Stone are great together, and they share the one scene in the movie in which the exchanges feel genuine from start to finish. The lovely Stone receives the least screentime of any of the major characters, which is unfortunate. But the success of their sequences shows again that it's execution of the small moments, not originality of plotlines or flashiness of gimmicks, that make romantic comedies work.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is a semi-ambitious misfire, and surprisingly atonal and flat considering it's directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, writers of the amazing dark comedies Bad Santa and I Love You, Phillip Morris (and codirectors of the latter). Bad Santa is a divisive cult classic, but I Love You, Phillip Morris is a lost gem that deals wonderfully with the intersection of comedy and awkward romantic entanglements. Here, they get neither element right.