2.5 Stars out of 4
Crazy, Stupid, Love uses a playful forking-path narrative in what I call Paul Haggis’s “Crash” For Lovers. It’s an ensemble cast who are just tragic in how they handle each other’s emotions. Critics are calling Crazy, Stupid, Love a veer from formula but it’s quite the same lovey-doveyness but rearranged where every character has a romantic interest and are on a quest to find or get back their “soulmate”.
The opening shot is the best display of nuance in a rather obvious ensemble piece on human affection (and affliction). We see couples playing footsie under their tables at a romantic, sumptuous restaurant. That is until we see the feet of Cal (Steve Carrell) and Emily (Julianne Moore), a high school sweethearts married couple dealing with cold feelings. Cal’s simple, bland sports shoes are grounded and estranged from Emily’s, high heels just yearning for something more. “What do you want?” Cal asks, peering into the menu. “I want a divorce,” replies Emily. Cue the rom-com.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is a familiar love story but it combines numerous love fairy tales to distract us from the formula, which is slowly turning into an absolute law in cinema. The self-deprecating and cowardly Cal bumps into ladies man Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling, abs and all) and the two form a convenient friendship. Jacob hurdles Cal through a socialite’s Pygmalion treatment and Cal develops just enough game to bed the crazy, stupid, lovely Marisa Tomei, in another neglected role as an elementary school teacher.
Meanwhile, Hannah (Emma Stone) is dealing with a dorky boyfriend and even Cal’s young son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) vies for the heart of his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). Like something very Greek, everyone in Crazy, Stupid, Love starts falling for one another. What once began as Cal’s quest to lure back in his adored Emily, becomes more about Robbie’s heart then Jacob’s and so forth. There’s a shocking revelation about three-quarters through, where the whole cast piles into frame as if this is Fellini’s 81/2 hopped up on rom-com. It’s just so crazy, isn’t it?
But is it stupid? Somewhat. I think Crazy, Stupid, Love, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You, Phillip Morris), may lack a touch of ingenuity. As an ensemble piece, this romance doesn’t quite find a consistent rhythm. As expected, it meanders but so much we lose touch of the feeling and the sensation of “love” that concludes the title. Certain characters fall for each other only for the sake of finding a happy ending (and who said this wasn’t formula?).
Ficarra and Requa aren’t fully successful in winding everything together. They are also sometimes too intent on being sweet and charming, when they should allow its audience to study the nuances of the characters. Along the way too, the female roles have questionable motivations. Tomei’s character is a nut, Moore’s wallows and whines, and Stone is left to charm. On the other hand, Gosling is a dressed up (and sometimes not, if you get my drift) player but easily becomes a kind guy. Carrell is self-abasing, until the finale where he makes a speech that ought to summon a sweet and cozy conclusion. So most of the solving is left to the men.
Crazy, Stupid, Love hasn’t mastered its characters, but it can be pretty funny and – for most of the way – entertaining. It reminded me of Love Actually, a Christmas-centred film that forced you to dance with its cheese. Crazy, Stupid, Love, however, is no occasion; it takes a bunch of formulaic rom-com tales and combines them into a story that looks remarkably fresh. This isn’t a wild romp as the title suggests, but there’s always something enjoyable in watching well-known actors falling in love again and again. The performers are not breaking any new ground, but are still pleasant characters in an equally pleasant trifle.