Now available on DVD, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” wandered onto local screens at summer’s end, all but lost among the Summer Blockbusters and kids’ films (or is that redundant?). This cleverly-scripted romantic comedy has fun with the formulae, conventions, and clichés of the genre, employing them while keeping its tongue firmly in cheek about them. Stars Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, and a handful of solid supporting actors help directors Glenn Ficara and John Requa realize Dan Fogelman’s heavily-plotted screenplay, keeping the several threads nicely woven together while avoiding confusion. The result is a pleasant, quietly amusing, occasionally touching comedy, rated “PG-13” but probably more appropriate for older teens and adults.
Carrell plays Cal Weaver, a middle-aged businessman whose wife, Emily (Moore), surprises him at dinner one night by asking for a divorce. As a response, on the way home Cal throws himself out of the car. The movie is replete with moments like this, which could have turned into farce or soap opera but instead are understated and funny. Things are left unsaid or unshown: we are not whomped upside the head, ordered to laugh. With few exceptions, scenes are underplayed.
One of the exceptions involves Cal and a middle school teacher (Marisa Tomei) hooking up after he comes on to her in the bar where he has been notably unsuccessful at picking up women. Cal’s actually being honest with her works like a charm, and his date throws herself at (and on) him. When she turns up later in the movie, the resultant shock is played strictly for laughs, though it’s no laughing matter. In a following moment of pathos, Cal bitterly notes the cliché.
But the script is never content to rest there, taking on the standard obstacles of comedy and continually easing its characters over the hurdles in a slightly off-balance manner. Gosling, playing a cliché himself, is Jacob, a smooth-talking pickup artist who decides to instruct the much-older man on the ins and outs of the bar singles scene. The ensuing tutorials deliver some of the film’s best moments, but they also lead to its more serious outcome, when Cal and Jacob reverse roles.
Along the way, some good work by Emma Stone as a neophyte lawyer who succumbs to Jacob’s studied charms and by young Jonah Bobo as Cal’s thirteen-year-old son involves us in some parallel plots that eventually weave into what might have been the traditional comic resolution. But it falls apart, the movie continuing on to a less certain but more satisfying conclusion, with one especially delicious final twist thrown in by the object of Jonah’s thwarted affections, engagingly played by Minneapolitan Analeigh Tipton.
Without turning ponderous or preachy, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” has something serious to say about relationships, youth and age, trust and fidelity. The happy ending is clearly engineered, but, hey, it’s a comedy, so that’s what we want, right? I recommend it for an appetizer before the feast of Big Holiday Movies is served.