Cal Weaver (Steve Carrell) and his high school sweetheart wife Emily (Julianne Moore) have fallen into the proverbial romantic rut. They’re getting divorced and Cal’s quietly given up, like a spaniel in the rain, all puppy eyes and stooped shoulders. Then he meets Jacob, played by the sponge-worthy Ryan Gosling, a guy who looks like he’s hopped out of a private helicopter, materialised from the cover of Esquire or GQ or is on Her Majesty’s secret service. This serial womaniser performs a makeover on Cal that rivals any episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Meanwhile Emily is courting smooth-talking accountant David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), pubescent son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is lusting after doe-eyed babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton, ex-America’s Next Top Model finalist) who is in turn nursing an unsettling crush on Cal. In parallel we also get to know Hannah (Emma Stone), who is among the only eligible women to have spurned Jacob as his favourite watering hole/prowling ground.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of those merciful exceptions to the paltry formulas of romantic comedy, rather resembling a light-hearted pantomime. It’s melodramatic; a number of interwoven intrigues based on mistaken identity and rumour erupt into extravagant set piece melees. The script is written so that its situations are of Meet the Parents-calibre surrealism, yet the family reacts in just the kind of messy, inelegant manner that one might relate to ‘real life’.
A number of genre clichés are embedded into the film just so that directors Ficarra and Requa (who once upon a Billy Bob, brought us Bad Santa) can point out how ridiculous they are. Favourites are a magnificent slow-motion zoom shot of Ryan Gosling eating a slab of pizza and some dialogue in which Emma Stone’s character describes how her date would turn out if it were a PG movie (and it is). This is a really witty and fresh way of acknowledging your audience, especially as PG-13 comedies generally treat audiences like they’ve never seen a film and find everything original.
This is obviously a film with a huge budget. The word is that the cast were all first picks, and it shows. The script fits them like a Jackson (thanks, collectivenoun.com) of gloves. Emma Stone has clearly hit new comedic heights, in what is a really satisfying follow up to her dramatic role in The Help, and it’s nice to see Carrell and Moore doing what they do best and balancing touching drama with self-deprecating parody.
There is an array of complex aerial and innovatively angled shots and no expense has been spared in realising the innumerable interior locations. Jacob’s bachelor pad reeks of the obscenely chic modern gentlemen, a yin to the yang of Cal’s empty pine-veneer divorcee’s flat. Crazy, Stupid, Love feels like a highly successful sitcom-to-screen feature: the banter-led writing has a similar narrative shape, building up slowly like a domino chain waiting to be toppled. The characters are written as though they are already our long-standing favourites, and the story hits the ground running, the familiarity is instant, not laboriously explained to us.
As far as blockbuster comedy genres go, Crazy, Stupid Love has its fingers in a lot of pies. Cal and Jacob’s friendship is a bromance; Hannah and Jacob’s meeting is a heart-warming indi romance, and there a generous flourishes of American Beauty age-inappropriate erotica and Parent Trap hijinks. This mix goes a long way to preventing audiences from easily predicting where the film is going, though it might waffle on a tad too long for a family-friendly movie.
American comedy is obviously going through a period of quality innovation, perhaps taking cues from the recent boom in high-production, well-written TV programming. It’s exciting to think that what has traditionally been a dismally low bar is being raised without compromising the inclusive appeal of mainstream cinema. After Bridesmaids, Date Movie and Crazy, Stupid Love, all that remains in the quest to save comedy is to load Adam Sandler and Cameron Diaz into a capsule and send them into permanent orbit.