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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love

It’s probably not a good policy to review a movie in direct comparison to the one you saw just previously, but in this instance the lure is irresistible. The contrast between Horrible Bosses and Crazy, Stupid, Love is stark and also quite informative. Whereas the former was a comedy predicated on premise, the latter is predicated on strong, relatable characters. This gives it a much firmer foundation, carrying it past the occasional awkward joke or plot miscalculation and delivering it safely to the other side, a sweet, funny, winning comedy. Most of the time you’re not laughing because of a particularly funny line, but because you’re caught up in these people and their plight, making the film’s moments of comedy and light drama that much more affecting.

Cal and Emily Weaver (Steve Carell and Julianne Moore) are a typical married couple near middle age. When Emily reveals that she wants a divorce, and has slept with a coworker (Kevin Bacon), it sends Cal into a tailspin. That tailspin is alleviated, or perhaps exacerbated, depending on your perspective, when Cal falls under the tutelage of a young, suave ladies’ man named Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Through Jacob, Cal acquires a new wardrobe and a new sense of confidence on the singles scene, bedding a string of women including Kate (Marisa Tomei).

In case you’re worried that you already know where this is going, well, you do and you don’t. The good part is that the screenwriters clearly thought this script out and made efforts to ensure that each characters actions have consequences, and that there would be no easy resets. There is no sweeping of either Emily’s or Cal’s actions under the rug.

Part of what helps the script succeed in heightening the conflict is a wide cast of supporting players who get more to do here than in your typical romantic comedy. The Weaver’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) isn’t just a precocious youth with slightly unrealistic knowledge and views on love; he’s also a real kid who’s hurt by his parents’ separation and unsure of what it means for him. His babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) isn’t just an unattainable crush object, she’s also a real character of her own, a confused, awkward teenager.

The large cast of meaningful characters is a sign that Crazy, Stupid, Love is trying to do a lot. It gives them all a perspective, and gives them all an important part to play. This becomes problematic at some points, where contrivances and coincidences rear their heads, but again the overall strength of the characters, and especially of the performances breathing life into them, carries the day. The plot is kicked into high gear by the presence of Hannah (Emma Stone) a woman who causes Jacob to question his belief system.

If you’re looking for a big message from this film, maybe something about the nature of love, you should probably turn your attention to the first two-thirds of the title. This is a movie which kind of just throws it hands up in the air and says, “You tell me, cause I don’t know.” Which in a way is pretty refreshing. So many romantic comedies act like they’ve got it figured out, and pretend that watching them is a way for you to figure it too. This seems like a much more realistic take, hopeful but uncertain. Though it may take one too many wild turns, I think most viewers will enjoy the ride.

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