Love is schizophrenic. There’s the deep, quiet love that anchors us, the kind that we feel at the birth of a child or when celebrating a 40th anniversary with a spouse you can’t imagine living without. And then there’s the love that changes normal, reasonable human beings into raving lunatics at the drop of a heart. It’s that kind of love that has kept playwrights, composers and novelists gainfully employed since Shakespeare. This is especially true for screenwriters as the visual medium is particularly suited for long, smoldering looks and passionate kisses (usually in the middle of a rainstorm).
Crazy, Stupid Love explores that dichotomy – the love we live, as well as the love we dream about and that makes us, well, crazy and stupid. It sets the premise slyly within the first minute of screen time. You have a romantic theme playing while the camera shows the feet of couples in a fancy restaurant, playing footsie in their classy shoes. Then the music abruptly cuts out as we see a woman’s sensible shoes and a man’s comfortable trainers. The camera pans up to reveal Cal and Emily (Steve Carell and Julianne Moore) a married couple having a quiet dinner date. They’re both deciding what they want. Cal decides he wants dessert; Emily decides she wants a divorce. While driving home, Emily confesses she’s slept with a co-worker, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). Cal’s response is to bail out of the conversation – literally, as he opens the door and rolls out of the moving car.
At their home, Cal and Emily’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is fantasizing about an older woman, the 17-year-old sitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). To him, she is his soul mate. Jessica, though, is fantasizing about an older man – Cal. While Robbie is a roman candle of desire, Jessica’s obsession remains unexpressed, except in her eyes when Cal drives her home that night.
Switch to a lounge where the crazy, stupid love is exploited by Jacob (Ryan Gosling). He’s a polished Lothario who can bed any woman he wants. Well, almost any. When he puts his moves on Hannah (Emma Stone), she laughs him off. Hannah is totally focused on passing her bar exam to become a full-fledge lawyer, while also hoping for a proposal from her boyfriend at the firm, Richard (Josh Groban) – even though Hannah’s friend Liz (Lisa Lapira) thinks Richard is a walking sleeping pill. When Cal stumbles into this bar after moving out of his house, Jacob sets about working a Pygmalion-esque transformation. He’ll help Cal rediscover his masculinity.
It is a pleasure to see – and hear – a well-written movie. The screenwriter, Dan Fogelman, has worked mostly in animated movies, having written both of the Cars movies as well as Bolt and Tangled. With this movie he’s definitely grown up, but he retains the genre-bending wit of those movies.
The film is filled with brilliant diamonds of scenes that shine their light on the manic side of love, though there are poignant lessons for the deep, quiet version as well. There’s a deconstruction of The Scarlet Letter by Robbie that will never let you look as that book in the same way again. In another scene Cal’s workplace erupts in applause when they discover he’s just getting a divorce. Since he’d been heard crying in the bathroom, the rumor was he had cancer. While it has its slapstick moments – and hilarious, they are – the movie mines most of its comedy from the character’s interaction.
Steve Carell is the master of the throwaway life commentary, verbalizing thoughts that most of us are all too familiar with. Where it was played for laughs in Get Smart, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Date Night, here it is achingly honest. As Emily, Julianne Moore is a competent woman who’s let part of her world run off the tracks. You can see the woman that Cal fell in love with, but the question is if she can recapture the love or will just let it go. Ryan Gosling is an inspired choice for Jacob, a shallow man who comes to realize there’s more to love than the crazy, stupid strain. It helps that he has a body that, to another character, appears photoshopped. Emma Stone has shown her gift for comedy in Zombieland and Easy A, but with Hannah she takes it to a more mature and satisfying level. Up next for her is The Help, which should cement her reputation as a quality actress.
Two supporting roles deserve special mention. Marisa Tomei is a delight as Kate, a single school teacher who becomes Cal’s stumbling, bumbling entrée into Jacob’s lifestyle. She manages to wreak her revenge for being discarded after a wildly – make that WILDLY – passionate night. Analeigh Tipton has only done a few other roles before taking on Jessica the Sitter, but it’s obvious she will be a lead actress soon. While she has a quirky beauty, the camera does love her face.
One unusual aspect of the production is that it’s directed by a writing team, John Requa & Glenn Ficarra (Bad Santa, Cats & Dogs). They’d done it once before, with the Jim Carrey misfire I Love You, Phillip Morris. Normally directing is a single vision, but they have managed a Coen Brothers miracle, without even working from their own script.
If you are looking for a love story, as well as a story about love in all its messy complexity, this movie will satisfy. It has heart. And that is neither crazy or stupid.