Some titles, like “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” or “Crazy Stupid Love,” make you say: Well, yeah, tell me something I didn’t know. So here is something unexpected: despite its generic premise, Crazy Stupid Love is warm and hilarious, a kaleidoscope of romantic misadventures with – of all people – Ryan Gosling as it freshest, funniest character. And it is really hard to be funnier than Steve Carell here.
Carell and Julianne Moore play Cal and Emily, a couple in one of those comfy-as-old-shoes marriages. In fact, the first scene shows their shoes under a restaurant table, and in a flash you see that his broken-in white running shoes and her stylish heels are worlds apart. Glancing at the dessert menu, he suggests that they say what they want at the same time, and she blurts “I want a divorce” a split-second before his “Creme brulee.” The film keeps building from that sharp little set-up.
There is a chain of complications ahead: Cal and Emily’s 13-year-old son has a crush on the babysitter, who has a crush on Cal. Emily has been having an affair with an accountant in her office (Kevin Bacon). And when Cal starts hanging out at a bar sipping vodka and cranberry juice through a straw and annoying everyone by ranting about his unfaithful wife, a playboy name Jacob (Gosling) decides to give Cal dating lessons that will turn his life around.
Their scenes together are perfection. Carell brings the deadpan sincerity and core of poignant feeling that has marked his best work, in The Office and Little Miss Sunshine. Gosling delivers his lines so straight that they spin into comic brilliance. “I don’t know if I should help you or I should euthanize you,” he says to Cal; there aren’t many actors who could make that line comic and pointed yet not mean-spirited.
In one of the best sequences, Jacob takes Cal shopping – a sly reversal of the de rigueur chick-flick shopping montage – and tells him his Mom jeans are not going to work. “Cal, be better than the Gap,” he says earnestly. “Say it: I’m better than the Gap.” Gosling may be known for intense dramas like Blue Valentine and Half Nelson, but he has an utterly light touch as he captures the goofiness yet good-heartedness of Jacob. (The comic Gosling is no fluke: here he is on Jimmy Fallon.)
Part of the joke is that Jacob looks like the kind of flashy lothario, with a gauche Schwarzenegger-size ring on his right hand, whose lines should never work. But he pays attention to women and they go for it – except for Stone’s character, Hannah, a lawyer with a self-absorbed dullard of a boyfriend (Josh Groban at his nerdiest), and a wise-cracking best friend (Liza Lapira) who wants Hannah to save herself before she’s bored to death. Stone is at her sophisticated but cute best as Hannah, who of course will have reason to reconsider Jacob’s come-on. (Here’s Stone on Conan, with a clip of Hannah defending her crush on – yes, Conan O’Brien.) All the actors are inspired, especially Analeigh Tipton as the babysitter, who has her own innocently risque teenager-on-the-verge-of-womanhood plot.
A huge part of the film’s success is thanks to Dan Fogelman’s glittering script; his screenplays for Pixar films including Cars did not prepare us for this savvy update on rom-coms. With a less sparkling script and less sharp direction, Crazy Stupid Love could easily have been one more tepid romance that is never as good as it should have been (prime example: Friends With Benefits.) Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa – who let Jim Carrey zoom around like Road Runner and smash their earlier film, I Love You Phillip Morris – handle all the moving parts with the ease of professional jugglers.
Crazy Stupid Love may have an obvious title, but it is something truly rare: a comedy as romantic and funny the second time you see it as the first.