Wednesday, March 07, 2012

DVD Movie Review: "Crazy, Stupid, Love" (2011)

"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet are of imagination all compact." 
~Shakespeare, right on target as usual

I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate romantic comedies.  I couldn't get enough of Crazy, Stupid, Love. Clearly there's something special about this film ... and there is.  In fact, this movie succeeds because of numerous somethings special (and an excellent ensemble cast) that together add up to a surprisingly charming, ultimately sweet look at the many complications of romance.  The course of true love never did run smooth ... but the bumps along the way, with their genially Horatian pokes at human foibles, make for a hilarious two hours' traffic of our stage.

The movie opens with nebbishy fortysomething Cal Weaver (the reliably engaging Steve Carell) out at dinner with his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) when she abruptly announces that she wants a divorce after 25 years of marriage.  


The dorky, depressed Cal proceeds to drown his sorrows at a local watering hole, where its impeccably dressed, astoundingly smooth resident pick-up artist Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) takes pity on him and decides to (a) give him a total makeover, and (b) turn him into a stylish ladykiller so "this wife of yours will rue the day she ever gave up on you."  The uproariously mismatched bromance is on.

"You're not Steve Jobs?  

The movie takes off from there.  Now this could have so easily been another one of those mindless and ultimately heartless flicks about cynically picking up chicks and being "funny" only in the sense of gross-out humor, cheap tricks, sex farce, and stupid pranks of the lowest buddy-movie type.  With its various subplots, it could have also been a cloyingly saccharine mess of emotional manipulation and formula designed to turned the audience into witless mush.  It could have been a toxic combination of both.  In fact, I was half-expecting this because I've pretty much hated every "romantic comedy" I've ever seen (see this too about horrible behavior in rom-coms).  "Crazy, Stupid, Love," however, takes an entirely different tack on ... well, almost everything.

The strengths of the film are many, but I would have to say that they're fundamentally anchored in the ensemble cast and the complex tissue of interconnected relationships that they portray.  Cal and Emily's marital woes are at the core of the movie, but they are surrounded by as many complicated relationships as there are other figures in their social sphere.  From their 13-year-old son Robbie's massive crush on his babysitter Jessica (oh, dear, who doesn't remember what crushes were like at that age!) to Jacob's encounter with the one girl whom he can't charm (Emma Stone) to Emily's awkward, conflicted flirtation with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon--!) and beyond, these parallel tales explore other facets of romantic complexity.  These characters have a heartening reality about them, an all-too-relatable plausibility in their hopes and doubts and feelings; they're not just cardboard cut-outs for a farce.  You can see the character arcs unscrolling all around the film in every scene, and it's a thing of narrative beauty about the human condition in its many different ages and stages.

In mid-lesson: the Miyagi of making out.

Having said all that, let's talk about Ryan Gosling, who steals the entire movie.  I've called him a "character actor of the first caliber" who deserves the growing accolades of being one of the best dramatic actors of his generation; I've noted his indie cred and his "chameleon-like" ability to vanish into his delicately yet powerfully realized dramatic, even tragic characters--the damaged schoolteacher of Half Nelson, the Steve McQueen-cool and laconic lead of Drive, the painfully shy yet tenderly human protagonist of Lars and the Real Girl, the exquisitely tormented student of Stay.  I haven't even talked about The Ides of March or Blue Valentine.  (UPDATE: My Blue Valentine review is now up. Same for The Ides of March.)

But who knew he was such a brilliant comedian?  It was a revelation: he surprised me all over again, and I have to admit that I love being surprised because it happens so rarely now.  Seriously, though, is there anything Gosling can't do on screen?  It's completely unreal.  He had already earned my respect, always grudgingly given.  But somehow without me realizing it until it was far too late, he turned me into a fangirl.  My students will tell you that I don't have a heart, but somehow Jacob Palmer stole it.  How embarrassing!  But MM loves talent, and she loves talent with humor (which explains why she loves Nathan Fillion so much, but that's the topic of another post).  And though I'm a scholar and a teacher and an analyst and critic of culture, well ... just look at this:

Smooth criminal.

Palmer's the sort of person I would hate in real life: the sly ladykiller, the slick player, the king of the one-night stand, the playboy brimming with self-confidence (bordering on Greek tragedy-grade hubris) because he's gorgeous and he knows it.  He is without doubt the guy your mama and your girl friends warned you about.  But this isn't real life; this is a movie, and in its universe Gosling gives a bravura performance first in making an unforgettable first impression as Jacob and then -- unbelievably -- cranking it up another notch by making the footloose playboy not only human, but vulnerably and ultimately even lovably so in a character arc that never loses its zestful humor.  The bromance with Cal, as you and Jacob both discover with surprise, goes both ways.

Jacob as a character is a work of art, and he's absolutely hilarious to watch: sardonically funny, brutally honest, brashly confident, and deliciously wicked, he exudes effortless cool magnetism and saucy grace.  You (and I) can intellectually disapprove of his lifestyle and modus operandi as he perches at the bar or saunters like a panther across the floor toward his next target, but he's simply so darn good at it that you can't help but be captivated watching him work his mischievous magic.  It's also eye candy taken to inhuman levels, but it's far more than looks (though they're certainly in play, and Gosling's character is so buff that the script even points it out for laughs).  It's the entire vibe that he gives off.  Irresistibly smooth with charisma to burn and a dashingly naughty smile, Palmer is Satan if Satan read GQ -- he's the devil in a designer suit.  In fact, if I had to cast Mephistopheles or Lucifer, I would totally cast Jacob Palmer.  I can only hope that Gosling had as much fun playing Jacob as the audience and I had watching him.  I haven't been this entranced and amused since Robert Downey, Jr. first brought Tony Stark to life or this taken (and delighted) by a serious actor's comic transformation since Tropic Thunder.

The one that got away.

I don't want to give away too much about the movie, so I'll stop now.  But suffice it to say, when Shakespeare said that the course of true love never did run smooth, he absolutely, positively knew what he was talking about -- and it's that sort of connection between believable people and believable problems of love that Crazy, Stupid, Love brings to the screen with such skill and aplomb.  Yes indeedy, love can make you crazy ... or stupid ... or both, often to great comic effect.  Comedies very rarely get any kind of award recognition, and that's too bad, because this is a great film that at its core is an ode to committed love.  No, really!

Mad Minerva gives this film a grade of A-.  I counted off for the (let's be honest) occasionally icky treatment of the teenage emotional roller coaster, the big public scene at the end that felt too forced, and the rather underdeveloped roles of Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon.  Still, huge props overall to the cameo role by a famous non-actor as "that human Valium Richard," the dependable character actor John Carroll Lynch as Bernie Riley, the charming Emma Stone (so delightful in 2010's "Easy A") as Hannah, Jonah Bobo as precocious lovesick Robbie, and above all to Ryan Gosling who surprised plenty of other critics even as he stole countless scenes (and hearts too).  PS: Ryan, nobody should look that good in a suit.  Or out of one, for that matter.  It's all positively criminal.  Err ... please do it again ASAP.

"Rotten Tomatoes" gives "Crazy, Stupid, Love" the fresh rating of 78%.

The official website is here.

"Crazy, Stupid, Love" runs 118 minutes and is rated PG-13 for 1 f-bomb and some other language, some coarse humor, adult themes, comic violence, and sexual situations.  There is also one bedroom scene, but it's not at all what you're expecting.

Here is the trailer:


lumpy said...

MM, thanks for the review! Based on that, I rented the DVD and ended up watching it twice last week.

** Fair warning for anyone besides MM who may read this: Here there be SPOILERS! **

I enjoyed it for many of the reasons you give, but I also appreciated the unexpected cultural comments. For example, Cal and his wife got married at 17 -- and they're soul mates! It wasn't played off as some terrible mistake, a reasonable excuse for cheating and divorce, the de rigueur handling of young marriage in cinema today.

While I agree about the big scene at the end, it's difficult to see another way of resolving all of the various story arcs satisfactorily within the spirit of the film and the 2-hour time frame. Cal's speech resolves a lot of things all at once, leaving only one thread untied, and is at least efficient. Still, points off; this is a movie worth staying longer than 2 hours for and that should have been done better.

No argument with points off for undeveloped characters, either.

On the other hand, I'm more ambivalent about the ickiness. Yeah, there are moments of cringiness, but at the same time, I appreciated that the movie took these characters seriously and, well, sometimes life, and love, is a bit icky. At the end of Robbie & Jessica's story arc, I liked that there was a kind of acceptance of these cringe worthy behaviors; they're young, and they both appear to have learned from their experiences.

That said, it was hard to keep the inner lawyer from fainting at the thought of Jessica actually delivering her envelope to Cal; I kept imagining someone else (like Emily) discovering it lying on a table where Cal (too distracted to open it) had left it. That would have resulted in a very different movie. Too, I would prefer not to have movies (or anything else) encourage underage girls or boys to take nude photos of themselves (hence some of the ambivalence).

(And speaking of ick, in your review, bromance? Really? Gag me with a lightsaber. No, really, please decapitate me before you use that word again; I can't bear to see it.)

Another positive for me were the many internal / meta references (can I say near-recursiveness?) of parts of the plot, e.g.:

- "I know what happens in the PG-13 version of tonight ..."

- Jessica never seems to see the parallel between her own pursuit of a much older man and Robbie's pursuit of her

- Jessica asks a savvy girl how to get an older man and gets similarly predatory advice to that Jacob gives Cal

- every girl seemed to want to be seen as the perfect combination of sexy and cute, and Jessica's photos in an envelope decorated like an innocent young love letter with colored letters, shiny heart stickers, etc., was just way out of bounds at both ends

- in a sense, reflecting all of the other major and minor characters in the movie except Jacob and Liz, nice guy Cal wants to remake himself and also goes way out of bounds - "Who are you?" Emily asks for us; all of these characters go over the line, but they learn something by doing so and correct themselves

- inversely, Jacob lives over the line and he steps in bounds as everyone else steps out

Liz, on the other hand, never redeems herself. Hm, wasn't she also smitten by Mr. Gosling? Wait, is this the secret blog of Liza Lapira!?

Ahem. Finally, I enjoyed what I took to be shout-outs to Scent of a Woman ("I don't know whether to help you or euthanize you" aka "I don't know whether to shoot you or adopt you") and Happy Gilmore (the whole mini golf scene w/ 80s music).

Great movie. Thanks again!

Mad Minerva said...

Wow! What a fabulously detailed review of your own!

Yes, I *am* Liza Lapira, hahahahah, nor really, but I did laugh out loud when I saw her response to meeting Jacob. I laugh ... because it's too close to what would probably if I were in her shoes.

Overall, a great flick -- and very smart and even insightful -- that's far and away better than others of the genre!