Monday, August 8, 2011

Clever, Smart, Love

I'm still finishing up the last of the July film releases as we finish the first week of August. Now that I'm back on track with the new films, and this month has some of the less anticipated titles for the summer, I considered this an opportune time to catch up on one of my must-sees. In this case, it was the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love starring Steve Carell alongside an ensemble cast that simply oozes talent and charisma. The film was also directed by Glenn Ficara and John Requea, whose debut 2010 Jim Carrey project I Love You Phillip Morris was an under-appreciated gem. These contributing factors, not to mention a hip and fun trailer (about divorce, no less) that ironically inspired love at first sight, made me very excited for this summer release. Sure, I've seen a large number of romantic comedies this year, but most of them have either been bad beyond comprehension or entertaining but with completely derivative plots and storylines. One look at Crazy, Stupid, Love seems to dissolve all those fears, and now that I had time to visit theaters, my friend - the Rom-Com expert Anne - and I checked out a show this past week. Despite the trailers being fairly clear on what story to look forward to, it was the breakdown of said plot that would most determine whether this film would stand atop the year's best or wallow in the mess that has consumed most of Hollywood's 2011.

Carrell shouldn't have told Gosling about his problems with "Little Stevie"
Carl Weaver (Steve Carell) has just gotten a divorce from his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) in response to her cheating on him with a co-worker, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). Naturally this throws the pair and their two children into an emotional tailspin, especially Carl, who had become so ingrained to married life that he has no idea how to re-enter the dating scene. While bemoaning his fate at a local bar, Carl meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a smooth-talking ladies man who agrees to help with Carl's physical and emotional makeover. Soon, Carl is entering the wild world of modern dating and casual sex, but Jacob finds his own path diverting when he meets Hannah (Emma Stone), who makes him look at his relationship with women in a whole new light. While both are going through their changes, Carl's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) pines after his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who herself has a major crush on Carl.

"If you want them to be President, you have to start them off at an early age"
From what you can see of those intermingled plot points, Crazy, Stupid Love gets very complex very quickly, with a large number of events simultaneously occurring on multiple levels. That said, most of the film focuses on Carl and other characters' actions around him. This makes the most sense, as just about every other character has some sort of connection to him, but it slightly damages the ensemble feel of the cast by focusing so much on Carl and his problems. This is especially true since while he is interesting in his own right, Carl pales in comparison to Jacob, who as a character could easily headline his own film. In fact, the Jacob/Hannah storyline is shunted into the background a bit too much (though there is a reason for this), and Carl gets a little tiring by the time we're not focusing quite as much attention in his direction. These are small missteps and surprising ones considering how strong the storytelling was in I Love You, Phillip Morris, but not so bad as to cause any actual demerits to be dispensed unto this title. The story behind Crazy, Stupid, Love might have been told slightly more in tune, but in the end it's unpredictability works wonders to make up for that offense.

I wasn't kidding. Carell is in every screenshot I could find for this film
Oh, yes, the unpredictability. It would not be uncommon for you (as if was for Anne and me) to place your hand over your eyes and face for much of Crazy, Stupid, Love, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. While I can't (and won't, you'll have to figure it out for yourself) go into too much detail, you will see things go completely out of control, only for it to be compounded by more things going out of control than you had ever anticipated. It's not an entirely comfortable scenario, but one that manages to be a lot of fun nonetheless. The result is you half-hiding your eyes from the screen while witnessing this madness, yet the film never really lets you look away. You're easily compelled to see it through to the end, which is the mark of any good film.

Auditioning for the next "Oceans" movie, are we Ryan?
Of course this movie would have to be populated by interesting characters to be truly good. As you probably gathered from the previews, Ryan Gosling is just amazing as ladies man Jacob, a role that doesn't quite fit with his career thus far. Though he failed to rightfully garner a Best Actor nomination at the last Academy Awards (no offense Jesse Eisenberg, but I would've rather had him over you), Gosling has finally gotten the attention of mainstream Hollywood after building his career on small but well-received films Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, and Blue Valentine. Now that he's getting star treatment, you might think his output would drop right into the deep end like so many others who have made the transition from indie to the big leagues. However, Gosling is a lot of fun and keeps all of his strengths on board while playing Jacob, and never does he do something which isn't completely believable. Carell is the film's star, and he tries his best to give us the same charm he does in just about every Steve Carell movie. Performance-wise, this is probably the closest he's come to his Little Miss Sunshine peak, but still doesn't deviate too far from his usual fare. He's still good, and as a lead he's more than serviceable, but I was hoping for much more from the character we're expected to mainly follow for two hours. Emma Stone is once again a lot of fun, though her character's major decision between sex with the hot bar guy (Jacob) and her boring relationship with boring lawyer Richard (Josh Groban) is hardly the stuff of legends. Her main source of power is her boundless energy, which here she displays in spades. Is Julianne Moore's career going to turn into a revolving door of cheating spouses now? First it was her great work in the widely overrated The Kids are All Right, and now she's doing the same here. Hopefully this is just a glitch in her resume and not full-blown typecasting, but she at least puts on a good show for the audience. She's completely sympathetic, unlike so many similar characters who would be instantly hated by the audience. I will watch Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon in just about anything, but while both do great jobs, neither is used to their full advantage in supporting roles. Analeigh Tipton is surprising on two counts. One, far more of the story is dedicated to her point of view than I had anticipated; and two, the young actress is actually quite good as the Weaver's teenage babysitter. She carries a certain innocence to her that isn't apparent in the trailer, and she's easily better than Jonah Bobo, the young Weaver spawn who eventually becomes the film's most annoying character.

Here's looking at you, kid... seriously, you're young enough to be his daughter
Looking at love from too many angles to count, Crazy, Stupid, Love really goes without sleep to deliver a strong narrative that makes you feel every emotion that the filmmakers want of you. Not the least bit subtle, the film makes up for that fact by presenting everything to you on a silver platter of fun, empathy and wisdom that can't help but charm. It's not the best romantic comedy I've seen this year (that would be Woody Allen's  Midnight in Paris) but it's right up there among the year's smartest and most heartfelt releases. To say it's worth seeing would almost seem like a disservice, but then again I would have to worry about anyone who can't get behind the excess of charm and heart that this film delivers to its audience. So go see it; Ryan Gosling deserves your patronage.

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