In Glenn Ficarra and John Requa‘s Crazy, Stupid, Love., we meet Cal and Emily, a long-standing couple in which only one half of them recognizes that the “standing” could in fact be traded out for “suffering.” Cal and Emily have some lovely kids and a nice house and what appear to be stable jobs, but there’s something missing.

Within the film’s first ten minutes, Emily (Julianne Moore) has asked for a divorce (in the middle of a dinner out, no less) and revealed that she’s had an affair (with one her co-workers, played, of course by Kevin Bacon), leading Cal (Steve Carell) to purposely fall out of their car and announce to both their son and babysitter what has just transpired during the world’s worst date night (and Carell knows from bad date nights). And thus begins Cal and Emily’s halting journey to return to a state of normalcy, if not a state of reaffirmed union.

The film is one of those multi-storyline affairs, with different combinations of couples shedding some light on some of the different aspects, problems, and joys of love. But instead of going the route of more trite spectacles, like Valentine’s Day or He’s Just Not That Into You, the main focus remains consistently on Cal and, by extension, Emily. Unlike most other rom-coms, the goal of Cal and Emily is not to live together happily ever after, it’s to get to a point where the very idea of happily ever after seems possible again. The challenge of Crazy, Stupid, Love. is finding the humor within that struggle.

Cal strikes out on his own, shoved out of his home into an efficiency apartment, abandoned by his friends (who have chosen Emily), and disconnected from his children. It’s no surprise he ends up at a local bar, drinking to cranberry-and-vodka away his sorrows. It is, however, a surprise that the bar’s resident lothario (Ryan Gosling), Jacob, picks up on Cal’s misery and makes it his business to fix up the sadsack. Jacob is slick and smooth and self-assured – everything that Cal is not – so it’s somewhat bizarre how easily their newfound friendship falls into place. Cal goes along with Jacob’s plan, which includes an inexplicable number of face slaps and putting a serious hurting on the family man’s credit card. Before he knows it, Cal has taken up Jacob’s same mantle – omnipresent local bar stud, bringing home a different girl every night.

But how exactly does that work to save Cal’s marriage? And how can Jacob spout off dating advice when he falls under the sway of just one woman, the spunky Hannah (Emma Stone)? And what is up with that babysitter (Analeigh Tipton)? And why is there only one bar in this entire town?

Despite some shaky plotting, the Carell and Gosling duo is an engaging watch and the two have their own special brand of chemistry that keeps the film going, even when things feel just ludicrous enough to be distracting. Carell plays Cal as a sweet-natured everyman, and though his character may go through some somewhat unexpected growing pains, he remains believable and sympathetic. And it’s to Moore’s credit that Emily, while not a sympathetic character by her very design, is never portrayed as loathsome or heartless. It’s clear that Emily is struggling with her own issues in the best way she can, even if a seventeen-year-old is able to express what is so easy to feel – she’s “batshit crazy.”

However, it’s Emma Stone who may be the best part of the entire film. She’s sassy and silly on her own, but her inclusion in any scene elevates the comedic sensibilities of everyone around her. She has sizzling, real chemistry with Gosling, and the two of them share the most honest and charming sequence in the entire film. While the Cal and Emily storyline gives the film its soul, Stone’s Hannah is undoubtedly its heart.

There are some unexpected twists in Crazy, Stupid, Love. that don’t emerge until the film is nearing its close, a plotting choice that feels more gimmicky than it would if screenwriter Dan Fogelman had worked them in sooner. Those twists lead into an overly wacky encounter that involves every single character in the film, including the children, a homemade putt-putt course, and a stunning amount of misunderstandings. Though the sequence could have been played miles darker, it comes off as a goofy spin on bad sitcom tropes. Fortunately, however, this somewhat bizarre sequence is not the last time all of our characters are tossed together, and the film ultimately provides a more honest and satisfying conclusion for them.

The film is, however, rife with clichés – talks of soulmates and the necessity of expressing love through big, ill-planned professions. But when the film quiets down, as it were, there are some truly wonderful moments, tinged with an honesty that is rare in big budget romantic comedies. Who knew that the year’s most touching scene would involve Steve Carell, standing in a darkened garden, looking in at a home that used to be his, and still could be – if he throws aside the crazy and the stupid long enough to reach back to the love that once got him there.

The Upside: Often emotionally honest and intermittently charming, Crazy, Stupid, Love. explores some darker territories while still remaining a breezy watch. Solid performances all-around elevate somewhat loosely drawn characters.

The Downside: Cutesy plotting reminiscent of laugh-tracked sitcoms may cloy, and the third act surprises may come too late to really engage some moviegoers.

On the Side: Ryan Gosling’s abs. Either way you slice it (and I bet you could slice something on those things, rrrow), they’re inspirational.


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