Crazy Stupid Love is the definition of a schizophrenic movie. On one hand, there are several beautiful sentiments expressed through dialogue, sentiments that really hit home in a way that is free of phoniness and treacle. On the other, there is a manipulative, glossy Hollywood production that carefully ignores some of the terrible things the characters do in the name of contrived drama and broad, shrill comedy before hitting the audience with desperate grabs for the heartstrings.
Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) have decided to call it quits. She's so bored with him that she slept with someone else, a co-worker named David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), and he's so comatose and spineless that he retreats into himself rather than standing up for himself and his marriage. He moves out, occasionally returning in secret to water the plants, and spends the rest of his time at a local bar observing the bar's Big Man on Campus. The BMOC is Jacob (Ryan Gosling), always impeccably groomed, sharply dressed, and walking out the door with a beautiful woman on his arm. One night, Jacob calls Cal over and offers his services: he'll give Cal a complete makeover if Cal will just stop complaining to the bartender, the girls, and everyone within earshot that his marriage is over.
Gosling's character is at the center of the movie's problems. There is no escaping that Jacob is kind of an asshole, using awful pick-up lines to convince women to let him use them before disposing of them. There is a reason for this (in one of the few movie twists ever that completely blindsided me), but the film still basically lets him off the hook because he's played by Ryan Gosling, who is all smiles and laughter. After so many romantic comedies that degrade and simplify the female characters, it's pretty irritating that Crazy Stupid Love is filled with well-written roles for women and then allows some of them to be seduced by such a terrible person without any signficant consequences for him. When Hannah (Emma Stone) makes her move and ends up back at his place, the film cheats by having the characters talk all night instead of falling into bed, as if not sleeping with one nice girl makes up for smooth-talking everyone else.
Meanwhile, an awkward subplot about Cal's 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and his infatuation with his 18-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) crosses a line past sweet and into stalker territory, with pretty much every character in the movie telling Cal to ignore the fact that Jessica is flatly refusing his advances and just keep on loudly proclaiming his sexual interest in her, including telling her that he was masturbating to thoughts of her and doing an awkward presentation at school. His crush is further complicated by Jessica's secret interest in Cal, which builds to involve Jessica's father, and pays off in the final scene in a way that sends so many bizarrely inappropriate messages I hardly know what to say.
In the end, though, the backbone of the film is the relationship between Cal and Emily, and there's lots of good material delivered with sincerity and emotional weight by Carell and Moore. The film does a great job of tracking both characters' issues and regrets over the way things have gone, without putting too much blame on one or the other. A scene where Emily calls Cal with a fake problem he'll know how to fix just to hear the sound of his voice is extremely moving, and there's a good message in a sequence where the two attend a parent teacher conference (even if it's interrupted by an uncharacteristic lie by Carell). The final scene between the two of them is so perfect you not only wish the entire movie could find that tone and stay with it, but it almost redeems the syrupy "big speech" stuff that happens in the scene before it, but even that can't undo the screenplay's mess of mixed signals and move love ahead of crazy and stupid.
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