MacGuffin Film Review – Crazy, Stupid, Love

Film Review – Crazy, Stupid, Love

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) is a mediocre film disguised as a good one. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and written by Dan Fogelman, the film charts a year in the life of a character who attempts to put his relationships with his wife, his family, and himself back into some sort of reasonable status. There is plenty of talent assembled here, especially with some first-rate actors. But while on the surface the film appears to provide an insight on love and real connections, and does have some pretty comedic moments, walking away I did feel that it never really had anything significant to say about those elements. Ultimately, it felt a bit shallow, even while it was fairly funny throughout.

If there is one thing that its lead actor, Steve Carell, can do and do well, it’s play characters that are stuck in a rut in desperate need of a pick-me-up. I like Carell, I think he can be very funny, and I feel that he is at his best when he plays mildly sad characters wanting to better their lives. He showed this in The 40 -Year-Old Virgin (2005), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and Dan in Real Life (2007). Here, once again he taps that part of himself to play Cal, a father and husband whose life is in a bit of a mess. Cal is married to Emily (Julianne Moore), a woman he has been with ever since they were in high school. While everything on the outside appears to be normal, truthfully their marriage is everything but. In the opening scene, we find Cal being blindsided by Emily when she confesses that she has been having an affair with her coworker (Kevin Bacon) and wishes for a divorce. Not exactly what Cal was expecting, especially while he was trying to order desert and wearing sneakers in a fancy restaurant.

Obvious to say, this moment leaves Cal in a bit of an emotional mess, with him trying to piece together what exactly was the cause for his marriage to fall apart. Luckily that answer is quickly provided by Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a good-looking, smooth-talking “ladies man.” Jacob had been listening in on Cal’s whining at the local bar and offers to help this sad sack of depression out of his funk. The first step to Cal’s rebirth is to acknowledge the fact that his marriage dissolved because he wasn’t “man enough” to keep the flame of passion alive. With a cliché montage of Cal undergoing a makeover (which really just involves him getting a haircut and wearing more expensive clothing), Cal quickly becomes Jacob’s protégé, knowing exactly how to act around women to “impress” them. Cue yet another montage of Cal and his multiple experiences with multiple women, and you get kind of an idea of what this film was going for.

In all honesty, the storyline about Cal growing more confident in his demeanor around women didn’t really bother me that much. In fact, I was reminded enough of Carell’s performance in 40-Year-Old Virgin that I actually found it kind of entertaining. The way that Cal routinely fails with introducing himself to females, the way Jacob continuously slaps him out of his malaise, and finally Cal “seeing The Matrix” and becoming “Jacob Jr.” actually did contain a good amount of laughs. The problem is, everything else about the film did not work in any sort of meaningful way. Steve Carell and Julianne Moore have good chemistry together, but whatever chemistry they had was dissipated by a lackluster script containing really bad dialogue. If the story thread involving Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) was somewhat inappropriate, then the story thread involving Jessica’s crush on Cal was really inappropriate.

The separate relationships that Cal and Emily get involved in were even more unbelievable. I did not think that Emily and her coworker David Lindhagen (Bacon) had any kind of mutual attraction with one another, other than the fact that they were written to be that way. Cal’s relationship with Kate (Marisa Tomei) was one that seemed to come out of a completely different movie. With a film that’s supposed to take on the tone of a drama with some comedic elements, Kate was a character that felt plucked right out of a screwball comedy. Poor Marisa Tomei, she is one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood, was recently nominated for an Oscar, and now has to settle for a supporting character that is a borderline sociopath with very little depth or coherence. And the way all of these multiple storylines cross felt very silly given the more serious tone. If this were a farce, then sure, I’d go along with it, but it’s not. It’s as if these people couldn’t have resolved their differences through mature interaction, but had to degrade themselves to the level of slapstick for comedy’s sake.

Even worse is Jacob, a chauvinistic, womanizing caricature of a man who thinks he knows the secret to relationships—to not have a relationship at all. That all changes when he meets Hannah (Emma Stone) a law student who thinks she’s smart enough not to fall for his charms, but in reality is dumb enough to fall for it anyway. It’s kind of amazing to watch Hannah swoon for Jacob, even when she knows full well what he’s about and what he’s done. I especially like the scene where Hannah describes in detail what she thinks Jacob will do to seduce her, but when he does, she buys into it regardless. I know what the filmmakers were going for with this relationship, in the way Hannah is supposed to show Jacob a life he never thought he could have. The problem is Jacob, in both the way he is written and in the way Gosling performs, it never really feels as if has gone through any kind of significant change. There’s nothing about him that tells me that this is a development that will last, that he won’t get tired of Hannah eventually and go back to his womanizing ways.

Crazy, Stupid, Love attempts to be a well-made movie about relationships at every age and emotional point in a person’s life. Unfortunately, it’s all gloss with nothing noteworthy underneath. The characters are one-dimensional, the pacing was slow with very little tension to hold on to, the climax of the film was ridiculous and over the top, and in the end no one felt as though they had gone through any kind of believable change. By the time we get to the “big speech” at Robbie’s school graduation, I was wincing at both the embarrassment of the actors having to perform this scene, and me having to sit and watch it. If there is one good thing to look out for, though, it’s the interaction between Jacob and Cal. Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling make an interesting onscreen duo, and there are a good handful of laughs to be shared between them. Too bad there wasn’t enough of that, and too much of everything else.

Final Grade: C+

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