So often, ensemble films in the romantic comedy genre fall flat and eat dung. Those who work behind-the-scenes on them seem to be more invested in packing in as much A-list names and rising stars possible instead of creating a strong and witty story that’s still romantic. From looking at the poster and watching its trailer billing a cast of about six or seven household names, and even from looking at the title alone, it’s understandable to write off Crazy, Stupid, Love as just another one of those films. But do write it off, and you’ll miss out on perhaps thefunniest, most intelligent, and most heartfluttering dramedy to hit the mainstream big screen so far this year. Yes, it’s possible for a film in this tired genre to succeed with a big-name cast, and even have a plot twist here and there.
That’s not saying Crazy, Stupid, Love is groundbreaking, or flawless. There are a few characters and relationships that could have been better developed—otherwise, the interweaving tales of love in its different forms, at every age and generation, truly give this film a head up over the others that try so hard to accomplish what this movie has achieved. As unrealistic as it can be on the outside (That’s what movies are!), it’s hard not to feel empathy and an emotional connection to the characters as the story progresses, particularly for its central character, Cal (Steve Carell). The film opens with an awkward dinner between Cal—a droopy-eyed, middle-aged man—and his wife Emily (Julianne Moore), who tells him directly that she wants a divorce. Later, she reveals that she cheated on him with her co-worker David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), which sends Cal into quite a bit of a funk and moves him out of the house. One night at the bar they frequent, young womanizer Jacob (Ryan Gosling) becomes strangely drawn to Cal’s social awkwardness, perhaps out of pity that he’s been talking to himself. The young man gives the older man a crash course on how to move on with his life and show his wife what she’ll be missing—this includes wearing a tighter suit, getting a haircut, and getting the girls at the bar to fall for him.
Meanwhile, Jacob can’t stop thinking about one particular girl he encountered at the bar, a strong-willed, hard-to-get law student named Hannah (Emma Stone). Hannah is in a relationship with her colleague Richard (Josh Groban), but after she gets very ticked with him after passing her bar exam, she runs back to Jacob to get the excitement she’s been missing from her life. But is it something more than just a hookup? And that’s not even the final piece in this love puzzle: While his parents struggle with their separation and Dad’s working the bar circuit, Cal and Emily’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is convinced his and his little sister’s 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) is his soulmate and stops at nothing to win her affections. However, Jessica has her eye set on a much older man—none other than Cal. Rounding out this stellar cast is Marisa Tomei as one of Cal’s (super bubbly) new love interests and John Carroll Lynch and Joey King as Jessica’s parents and friends of Cal and Emily.
The long summary should tell you that Crazy, Stupid, Love is a lot to swallow, but it’s easier to follow and ten times more enjoyable when you’re actually seeing it all unravel. Each passing scene becomes more exciting, hilarious, adorable, sad, and surprising as the last—sometimes a combination of all—and leads to one of the most uproarious and possibly most jaw-dropping climaxes in this rather tame genre of film. The dialogue is witty and humorous without relying heavily on gimmicky one-liners and romantic moments are stirring minus the cheese. It’s all of the stories playing out and converging into one, and seeing how the characters relate to and learn about love from one another in unlikely ways, that really makes Crazy, Stupid, Love such a joy to watch.
The fact that the cast shares so much chemistry and delivers fine performances gives this film its life. But the most buzzworthy should be Gosling. Yes, his gift for eating pizza so seductively in a suit and still being so cut when he takes it off is rather distracting, but keep in mind that this is the same guy who portrayed a troubled husband opposite Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine earlier this year, and now he’s turning in smart-ass, cocky Casanova talk to whip comedy king Carell into shape. He proves to be versatile with his turn as a quick-witted and savvy ladies’ man, who is strangely still likable through it all. Speaking of Carell, he somehow manages to reprise his role as the nerdy guy in need of a physical and social makeover a la Andy in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, yet inject a dramatic and genuine character as a guilt-stricken husband and father above all. As Hannah, Stone solidifies her status as young Hollywood’s most beloved and sought-after star with a style of infectious comedy that’s all hers, and playing a love interest that’s also her own woman. Moore, Bacon, and the rest of the cast is excellent, though of the secondary roles, every one of Tomei’s out-of-control scenes is a hands-down memorable moment.
Thanks to some clever writing that puts a very talented cast to overall exceptional work, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a film that’s thoroughly engaging, touching, and hysterical. The title is a self-fulfilling prophecy, truly documenting some of the crazy and stupid things people will do for love—and it works its magic well to cast the audience under its optimistic spell.