Monday, August 01, 2011

All for Love

When I say that they don't make movies like Crazy, Stupid, Love very often, I'm serious. Yes, there are plenty of romantic comedies out there, some involving adults, and yes, a plot about a wimpy, broken-hearted man who seeks counsel from a cooler guy isn't new, but too infrequently is the movie as good — as smart, as funny, as warm-hearted, as alive — as this one is. And that's why Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of the best movies, not just of the summer, but of the year so far.

In CSL (no relation to Eat Pray Love, by the way), Steve Carell plays Cal, who is told out of the blue one night that his wife (Julianne Moore) has been sleeping with a coworker (Kevin Bacon) and wants a divorce. Reeling and broken hearted, Cal begins spending time in a hip bar, where he meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a slick ladies man, who takes Cal under his wing and schools him in the ways of wooing women. Jacob, however, meets and eventually falls for Hannah (Emma Stone), the only woman to resist his advances. Simultaneously, Cal's 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) tries to woo Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), his 17-year-old babysitter, who has a crush on Cal.

Despite its mildly slapsticky premise, CSL treats its subject (and the audience) with respect and care. Jacob may be a cad, but he's not a stereotypical bad boy. Cal may be down on his luck, but he doesn't spin out of control in a pathetic way that's inconsistent with who he is. And yes, Robbie may be a bit precocious and smarter than the average kid his age, and yes, all those plot threads (and others) do come together in a slapsticky scene late in the movie, but outside of those exceptions, screenwriter Dan Fogelman and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have created a world you can believe and characters you root for from start to finish.

Carell as Cal is as sweet and likable as he was in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Despite his makeover and what he's been told by Jacob, and as much as he tries to move on, he knows he's still in love with his wife, who he's loved since they were in high school. He still sneaks back to his house to tend to the plants and lawn, and he picks up a woman (Marissa Tomei) by telling her he wants to show her off to his wife (in this case, that works). This sensitive performance has Golden Globe nomination written all over it. If anything, it's proof that leaving The Office wasn't a mistake.

And Gosling shows a side of himself that has heretofore been hidden in films like Half Nelson and Blue Valentine. You'd have to go back to Lars and the Real Girl to see him play a role this light and fun. Gosling's seduction scene with Stone is one of the sexiest things you'll see on screen all year, and I don't say that because they're both not wearing much clothing. Let's just say that like in the trunk scene in Out of Sight, sometimes dialogue, when written and acted well, can be really hot.

I could say more, but to do so would ruin the pleasure of seeing the movie and discovering it for yourself.

In lesser hands, CSL could have been like Date Night, a subpar Carell-starrer about a bored couple that finds the spark to continue. And CSL isn't exactly a date movie. That doesn't mean it's not romantic. It's just that it shows how complicated love can be, and how rewarding. No, CSL is not a movie you see very often. And that's what makes it a must-see. I'm giving it an A–.



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