Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) are a long-married couple, on a not-terribly-romantic date when Emily blurts out that she wants a divorce. Cal is shocked, clearly, even jumping from a moving car on the way home, but not willing to talk about it — not about the divorce or the fact that Emily slept with co-worker David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon).
They get home distraught — so much so that they don’t realize that they’ve walked into another romantic misadventure. Their 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has just been caught by babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) having some, a-hem, alone time. As awkward as that moment is, Robbie has an even more awkward one when he informs Jessica that he often thinks of her when he’s, cough, alone and that he loves her. Which is when Cal and Emily walk in, unintentionally announcing their divorce. Jessica’s attention immediately goes to this situation because, despite being 17 years old, she is desperately in love with Cal.
Not that it’s completely clear why. In addition to being rather emotionally shut down, Cal has clearly settled into suburban dad-ness — on the “date” with Emily he was wearing sneakers, an unfortunate haircut and a polo shirt, all of which made him look a bit like a giant 8-year-old. Unsure of what to do with his single self, Cal goes to a bar where he drinks vodka cranberries and drunkenly tells the world about his wife’s affair with David Lindhagen.
This is too much mellow-harshing for Jacob (Ryan Gosling). The bar where Cal unburdens himself so pathetically is the same bar where Jacob suavely gets girl after girl to go home with him. He is nattily dressed, smirkily handsome and sports a nice six-pack. He always succeeds — except when he hit on Hannah (Emma Stone), a young lawyer who is contemplating a future with her current wet-blanket boyfriend, much to the dismay of her friend Liz (Liza Lapira). Though he struck out with Hannah, he is back at the bar on another night and near to closing the deal with another woman when Cal’s sadness becomes too much for him. He calls Cal over to his table, and after explaining what’s wrong with Cal’s outfit, his drink and his off-putting declarations, Jacob offers to help him out. Cal agrees and shows up at the mall the next day where Jacob helps him buy a slick new non-suburban wardrobe, complete with real grown-up shoes and jeans that are not from The Gap. Then, he takes him to the bar slowly getting his feet wet with the whole talking-to-women thing (no discussion of children, nothing about the ex-wife). Eventually, Cal is able to chat up an actual woman, Kate (Marisa Tomei), and even take her home. Once he accomplishes one pick up, he does it again and he finds not just a new sex life but some new insight into himself and his relationship with Emily.
Meanwhile, Emily is gingerly considering a relationship with David — much to the dismay of Robbie, who tries to scare him off. Robbie continues pursuing Jessica, no matter how loudly she tells him to back off. Jessica cluelessly pines for Cal and gets advice on sexting as a possible way to gain his attention. And then there’s Jacob, who, having molded Cal into some version of himself, is suddenly besotted by Hannah.
There are some genuine surprises in Crazy, Stupid, Love., not the least of which is that people behave in a normal, recognizable-as-human manner. The standard movie thing to do would have been to have Cal become a jerk once he got the hang of being a lady’s man. But he doesn’t, he really likes his wife and his transformation with Jacob is really just something that yanks him enough out of his regular life for him to understand how his marriage went wrong. Likewise, Emily isn’t some evil heartless woman — she’s confused and we see her work through her feelings for Cal and her feelings about their life. The Jacob/Hannah story is the most rom-com-y part of the movie, and yet even it sort of plays with the idea of who these characters are. Everybody gets to have depth, some high and low moments, a bit of a sense of humor about their lives. It’s refreshing — it isn’t mind-blowing story-telling or anything but it is refreshing to watch people who behave much like actual people in the real world.
Carell is particularly good at this. He can make his characters funny, knowing and quirky while still making them recognizable as human people. The result is that he brings a certain texture and level of quality to his movies. His characters always seem smarter written and layered — sometimes even much more so than the rest of the characters in the movie.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. is the opposite of the raunchy Friends With Benefits kind of romantic comedy but it works for some of the same reasons. It doesn’t mistake wackiness for humor, takes its characters seriously and hints at the messiness of real-world relationships. B-
Rated PG-13 for coarse humor, sexual content and language. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and written by Dan Fogelman, Crazy, Stupid, Love. is an hour and 47 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros.