Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

In a year of disappointing and miscalculated comedies (Larry Crowne and Chalet Girl are two that immediately spring to mind), Crazy, Stupid, Love is a wonderful return to form. Co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s follow up to last year’s surprisingly sincere I Love You Phillip Morris is a suitably mature addition to the oft-contrived rom-com genre.

Happily married simpleton Cal’s (Steve Carell) life is thrown into turmoil when his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), suddenly demands a divorce. Now Cal, a man set in his ways, has to adjust to being single, with a little help from ladies man Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling).

As the narrative unfolds, a cavalcade of colourful characters come onto the scene, including the beyond-his-years son of Cal and Emily, Robbie (Jonah Bobo); the family’s 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton: comedy revelation waiting to happen); law student Hannah (Emma Stone); and outlandish schoolteacher Kate (Marisa Tomei).

Screenwriter Dan Fogelman, whose pre-Crazy, Stupid, Love days were spent writing such screenplays as Cars and Tangled, tries his utmost to keep on top of the criss-crossing plot threads and make them all as relevant and as affecting as the last. From commitment to desperation and infatuation, Crazy, Stupid, Love covers a lot of topical issues in its various situations, although there are perhaps a few too many for them all to have the emotional resonance necessary to feel vital to the overall narrative.

Of those plot strands left underdeveloped, and therefore those that don’t have the necessary eventualities, are Robbie’s infatuation with his babysitter Jessica and Cal’s brief one-night-stand with kooky schoolteacher Kate (a wonderfully on-form Tomei). It’s not that these strands are entirely pointless, but they receive too much screen-time for what they are. This could have been better spent elsewhere.

Thankfully, when Crazy, Stupid, Love works, it works very well indeed. The two central storylines – Cal and Emily’s sudden divorce and Hannah’s effect on Jacob’s elusive lifestyle – are both handled brilliantly. Carell and Moore’s sublime performances bring a wonderful depth and sincerity, while the pairing of Stone and Gosling is something of a stroke of genius. Their chemistry and joie de vivre (highlighted by a hilarious scene that sees Jacob and Hannah spoofing Dirty Dancing) are played to the max, particularly by the always rapturous Stone. They all manage to achieve an almost perfect balance between comedy and sentimentality: a rare feat in the modern-day rom-com. However, the film is at it’s best when going for straight-up comedy, with one or two of the more emotional scenes feeling a little too clichéd and fictitious for their own good.

Ficarra and Requa prove themselves a worthy duo to handle such easy to spoil material, appreciating each and every character. They use the happenstances, the personalities, the alliances to strike a chord with audiences of different demographics, rather than playing against them and focusing on the more banal elements. Through well-nailed editing and simmering cinematography, the pace is refined, stimulating, and not too imposing, benefiting the ultimate payoff.

Crazy, Stupid, Love owes a lot to the tenacity of Fogelman’s screenplay, Ficarra and Requa’s adept direction and the avidity of the ensemble cast. Without such a measure of each, the film wouldn’t have legs to stand on. Delightedly, it does.

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