Summer comedies have become such a nonstop orgy of debauchery and raunch that it’s beyond refreshing to see a film with the decency to couch its dick jokes in a sweetly humane shell — something more than a candy sprinkle of good feelings. Here, for the most part, are fully realized people, with understandably complicated emotions, even though they are occasionally crammed into bumper cars of farcical complications and told to have at it. Sure, it’s essentially a rom-com about a middle-aged guy taking cad lessons from an ultra slick lady-killer, but with a genuine heart ever lurking behind the arch cynicism that pervades the average Bradley Cooper or Vince Vaughn vehicle.
The real difference here is Dan Fogelman’s smart script, and a superior cast that knows how to milk it for all it’s worth
Steve Carell has a beak made for comedy: his majestic nose, rising like a great pyramid from the flats of his otherwise placidly handsome face. That potent schnozz lends comedic potential to every scene, no matter how straight Carell tries to play it, but it also makes him an innately relatable, humble character, and his everyman Cal is likable even when being a little naughty.
Devastated by the news that his high school sweetheart wife Emily (Julianne Moore) has had an affair, mild-mannered Cal quickly retreats to a cruddy bachelor apartment and the comfort of barstool at the local meat market. There his sad-sack look catches the eye of glib tomcat Jacob (an effortless Ryan Gosling), who out of pity takes on the Henry Higgins-style challenge of turning a zero into a hero. Meanwhile, Jacob has the script flipped by a comely but frustrated law student, the adorable Emma Stone, who actually picks him up, and proves (gulp) relationship-worthy.
Humbler movies would leave it there, but Crazy, Stupid, Love weaves these antics into a narrative about misplaced affections involving the kids, their babysitter and a few sundry other love interests used for seasoning. When you have the luxury of using actors like Kevin Bacon and the Marisa Tomei as side players, then clearly you’ve assembled a fine cast. All of these tangled storylines collide in a big, broad comedy slapstick free-for-all, which seems out of place with everything that preceded it, but is so expertly executed it all works.
CSL is probably 20 minutes too long, concluding with the kind of sappy speeches the movie has taken pains to avoid. Directing team John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (I Love You Phillip Morris) scuff up the movie’s smoother mainstream corners, adding just enough edge to keep you guessing. In fact, there’s a major twist I didn’t see coming, a victory in this sort of affair, and if the movie isn’t perfect, it’s good enough to be lovable.