“Crazy, Stupid, Love” presents the audience with no build up. We are introduced to the Weavers right as Emily (Julianne Moore) tells Cal (Steve Carell) that after having cheated on him with a coworker (Kevin Bacon), she wants a divorce. Within minutes of screen time, Cal is forced to move out and starts trying to figure out what exactly happened to the life he spent 25 years creating. Lonely and depressed, Cal begins to frequent a bar where he notices Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a ladies man in the vein of Barney Stinson (“How I Met Your Mother”). To Cal’s surprise, Jacob takes an interest in him and begins mentoring him on the finer points of single life and picking up women. Cal is nervously but sufficiently transformed and regains some of his former strength under Jacob’s tutelage. The only question is whether or not he’d rather start anew or find a way to work things out with his wife. At the same time, Jacob finds himself enthralled by Hannah (Emma Stone), a would-be conquest who initially rejects him before embracing the spontaneity that Jacob symbolizes, a relationship that throws them both for a loop. All of this, along with another love-related story line or two, creates a skillfully designed yet unrefined look at the highs and lows of love.
It’s not often that we talk about the technical or behind-the-scenes work done on a romantic comedy. If anything, you might hear that the dialogue is well written but that’s usually about it. “CSL” is an exception to this rule. The directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and up-and-coming screenwriter Dan Fogelman made every effort to position this film as much more than a simple date movie. For one thing, the shot selection and camera work is exquisite. I’m not sure I’ve ever said that about a rom-com before but it must be noted. Angles, close-ups, and fades are used to simply and subtly enhance the tone of a given scene in a way that is usually reserved (or at least noticeable to an average filmgoer like myself) for Oscar bait. The story (or many stories) told within “CSL” is extremely intelligent and one that treats the audience with respect. The characters are multi-dimensional, the story isn’t black-and-white, and the film doesn’t superficially tug at your heartstrings, rather allowing the organic elements of the narrative to do that on their own. It is also gloriously self-aware, a cherry on top of the already appealing sundae.
That’s not to say “CSL” is a perfectly made film. The various plotlines don’t all come together for quite some time and that gets slightly annoying and puts a lot of pressure on the conclusion (which thankfully handles the pressure very well). Just when you really get into a particular story, the scene cuts and you’re taken back to another set of characters. Fogelman’s script is complex and the dialogue therein is even more so, requiring the actors to talk in bursts in a way that is similar to an Aaron Sorkin film. I’m a huge Sorkin fan so that didn’t bother me in the slightest but it can be difficult to keep up. Even some of the character relationships seem odd at times; not bad, mind you, but simply a bit awkward. (Though when you consider the differences in the characters and the situations they’re put into, it should be awkward.) In addition, this is not a seamless blend of drama and comedy. Many of the tougher, more impactful scenes pull back and allow for a tension-breaking joke when I might prefer the directors to take it a step further.
For me, however, “CSL” is better for its flaws. I can relate to flawed characters and situations that aren’t ideal and that relevance is where “CSL” excels. All of these characters are human; exaggerative examples of humans, sure, but human nonetheless. And each and every member of the cast (with the exception of Marisa Tomei who really isn’t given ANYTHING to work with) grabs hold of that humanity and runs with it. I’ve always been fairly lukewarm on Ryan Gosling fan but his performance here has won me over for good. “Womanizing hot guy with a dark past” is a tired, often overdone role but Gosling brings incredible depth to Jacob Palmer. At his heart he is a good person and Gosling makes that believable whereas other characters of this type seem only to be “good” in theory alone. He also shows a distinctly humorous side that I didn’t know he had. The story goes that when he took the role, Steve Carell essentially demanded Gosling be his co-star, a decision which seemed strange at the time but is proven wise time and time again throughout this film.
Speaking of Carell, I don’t think there is an actor in Hollywood who is able to blend comedy and real, genuine heart like he does. He elicits sympathy from the audience without becoming pathetic and his timing as far as well-placed jokes go is uncanny. Meanwhile, Emma Stone continues to assert herself as a legitimate movie star. She’s had bigger and perhaps better performances in the recent past (“Easy A”) comes to mind but I don’t think she has shown the depth or versatility that she does her. Funny as always, she adds an element of mystique that makes it easy to believe that Jacob would leave his wayward ways to chase after her. Moore, Bacon, and even relative newcomers Jonah Bobo (who plays the Weaver’s son) and Analeigh Tipton (love-struck babysitter) all carry their weight as well, making this a well-rounded ensemble worthy of the many storylines the script weaves together. And the chemistry between the involved parties of each storyline (Carell-Gosling, Gosling-Stone, Carell-Bobo, etc.) ties “CSL” together wonderfully.
“CSL” is a sometimes jumbled collection of interconnecting stories, all of which stand well on their own and all of which are hell bent on exploring the truth about love. It is frustratingly beautiful, flawed but whole, hilarious at times and heartbreakingly harsh at others. Most of all, though, it is honest and that is what makes it such a worthwhile viewing. Consider the “Just See This Movie” card played and act accordingly.
Emma Stone is seriously close to stealing me away from Rachel McAdams,Brian
For a much less sunny take, check out the review at Anomalous Material.