Friday, July 29, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise: Crazy, Stupid, Love.



 This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

For some, the idea of going to a "romantic comedy" is about as appealing as watching a six-hour PowerPoint presentation about fiscal growth. I don't run screaming from rom-coms, but I have to admit that the majority I see just leave me sad and/or angry, so "Crazy, Stupid, Love." was a pleasant surprise in a genre rife with mediocrity.

Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore star as Cal and Emily Weaver, a couple long-married and seemingly happy, until Emily bluntly tells Cal she wants a divorce instead of a dessert at the end of a date night.

Cal doesn't take this well, especially after Emily confesses to sleeping with her co-worker, Dave Lindhagen, (Kevin Bacon). Nonetheless, Cal leaves the house, gets an apartment, and starts to frequent a local pick-up joint, telling anyone who'll listen that his wife has had an affair with DAVE LINDHAGEN! (The name becomes a running punchline). Jacob, (Ryan Gosling), the bar's resident Lothario, takes notice of sad sack Cal, and out of pity, offers to take him under his tutelage, teaching him the ways of the pick up artist.

After your requisite makeover scene, and several failed attempts with the ladies, Cal eventually scores with a wild teacher played by Marisa Tomei. (Who is great in the role, although I am pretty sure I have seen her play this same character--the 40ish wildcat--more than once in the past few years.)

Jacob continues to sleep his way through the bar's clientele, eventually hooking up with a fiery redhead named Hannah, (Emma Stone), who ends up meaning much more to him than a one-night-stand, much to his surprise.

Meanwhile, Emily tries to come to terms with her singlehood, while also dealing with two kids, one of which, 14-year-old Robbie, (Jonah Bobo), is hopelessly in love with his 17-year-old baby-sitter, Jessica, (Analeigh Tipton), who is, in turn, in love with Cal.

This multigenerational set-up may sound like standard romantic comedy fare, but the movie is able to rise above the genre thanks to some great performances, and a clever script. In a refreshing change of pace from movies with upwards of five or more screenwriters, (see: "Cowboys & Aliens"), there is only one screenwriter here: Dan Fogelman, a writer whose previous credits include the animated films "Cars" and "Tangled." (There are, however, two directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who directed last year's "I Love You Phillip Morris." )

It's a tough thing to write fast-paced banter that doesn't sound scripted or affected, but Fogelman manages to make the dialogue in the movie both clever and very real. The characters talk over each other, blurt out things you know they instantly regret, as people are wont to do, and even occasionally find themselves at a loss for words. It's a testament to the script that the most romantic moments in the movie aren't necessarily the big speeches about love, but little bits of conversation where two characters are able to reveal the comforts of familiarity, or the excitement of learning about someone new.

Of course, a good script is nothing without solid performances, and thankfully the movie's full of good actors. Steve Carrell is able to pull off sad sack as well as triumphant ladies' man while remaining sympathetic. Julianne Moore, well, come on. She's always good, so it's a tad disappointing to see her story relegated to the background for much of the movie.

Emma Stone won me over completely with last year's "Easy A," and she's just as funny and peculiarly pretty here. She has an off-handed moment where she imitates Lauren Bacall's High Point coffee commercials that had me guffawing. (Granted, I don't think many others in the audience knew what the hell that was about.)

But the real revelation here is Ryan Gosling. I've appreciated his combination of good looks and acting chops in such films as "Blue Valentine," "Half Nelson," and, yes, "The Notebook," but I was never really a gushing fan girl. Until now. He demonstrates such a wicked combination of sexual smoothness and comedic timing that by the end of the movie, I swear he had my underwear off too. (Apologies to my seatmates.)

Towards the film's climax, it does begin to veer dangerously close to sitcom territory, but it never really derails, and even manages to throw in some plot twists that took me by surprise. I don't think "Crazy, Stupid, Love." is a romantic comedy that will convert the staunchest haters of the genre, but I do think it's a good bet for those who always venture into such films with an undying sense of trepidation.

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