**½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras C
starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Kevin Bacon
screenplay by Dan Fogelman
directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
by Angelo Muredda There's a pretty good movie inside Crazy, Stupid, Love., but no one involved seems to put much trust in it. Lightly melancholic and affecting when it finds its cast at their manic lows, the film at first cavalierly launches its ensemble like discrete pinballs, to great comic effect, only to collapse in a fit of contrived set-pieces torn from the Paul Haggis playbook. It's a shame. If the third act's everyone-at-the-garden-party resolution is economical, it's also distressingly uncrazy: a geometrically tidy solution to a film that's begging for something gawkier.
The opening scene sees menswear-challenged Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) deliberating over their restaurant orders when Emily finally decides: she wants a divorce, admitting to a dalliance with her co-worker, the forbiddingly Nordic-sounding Dave Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon, revisiting his cad from Picture Perfect). Twenty-years married to his high-school sweetheart and soulmate--a word every member of this strong cast seems obliged to say at least twice--and suddenly cast off, straight-laced Cal docks himself behind a bar, sipping vodka crans and muttering "Lindhagen" under his itchy Gap blazer. It's in this sorry state that Cal is spotted by well-groomed operator Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who takes it upon himself to "Miyagi" his older apprentice into the kind of man who can win favour with the likes of barfly Marisa Tomei, funny here in a thankless and high-strung Leslie Mann sort of role. While Cal waffles between his new digs and old affection for Emily, his thirteen-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has romantic woes of his own, yearning for waiflike and slightly older babysitter Jessica (a refreshingly strange Analeigh Tipton), whose own interests lie secretly--for now--with oblivious Cal. Before long, even Jacob succumbs to the awkward titular wave of adjectives and nouns, daydreaming of a future with bright law student Hannah (Emma Stone), who's preoccupied with a milquetoast lawyer played by Josh Groban--inspired casting indeed.
Convoluted as its setups are, there's a lot to like in the execution, and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, coming off the considerably nervier I Love You Philip Morris, bring some of that film's ragged edges to a script (by Cars screenwriter Dan Fogelman) that tends towards neat, sitcom closure. Former screenwriters who cut their teeth on raunchy comedies like Bad Santa (as well as unwatchable fare like Cats & Dogs), Ficarra and Requa are attentive to their cast's rich, lined faces. Carell and Gosling are framed lovingly in warm close-ups that modify the typical romantic-comedy reaction shot, letting us watch smart people think their way through things. After a patchy faux-screwball start that has Carell and Moore rapidly talking over one another, the film settles into a more casual rhythm that lets their chemistry come through in their easy shorthand.
Gosling has the trickiest role: as written, it's hard to imagine his laser-sharp Woman Whisperer doing mundane tasks like folding laundry. But the actor finds humanity in his seduction bot, and is convincing as a lonely male hysteric who collects dates as he collects massage chairs from the Home Shopping Network. He understands what too many writers in this genre forget about supposed bad boys with sad eyes and impeccable track records: that they succeed where babblers like Cal fail because they're attentive to their dates and tend, at bottom, to be decent people. While Carell's transformation into Jacob-lite feels like a contrivance, Gosling's own steps towards monogamy come across as an earnest experiment as a result.
His success owes a lot to onscreen partner Stone, who with the gangly and uneven Easy A finally graduated from Jonah Hill love-interest territory to become a successful comedienne. Her Hannah is done no favours by sketchy early dialogue that presents her as a husband-hunting career obsessive with a "PG-13 life," one of too many clumsy nods to the film's own rating. Stone is luminous, however, and makes the most of a meta-date with Gosling in the film's emotional centrepiece. Anticipating her date's "big move" and retrospectively narrating the night as if from her late-life memoir about that time with "Bar Guy," Stone is touching as someone too embarrassed to own her shockingly conventional desires. That Stone and Gosling unearth something disarmingly real amidst this potentially disastrous ironic setup that recalls countless self-dissecting comedies from the late-'90s is a testament to both their taste and palpable chemistry.
If only it stopped there. Sadly, Crazy, Stupid, Love. turns out to have more in common with Magnolia than you might think, and it throws its characters under the bus in two mechanical late scenes that force them to converge in unnecessary ways. The goodwill the actors have racked up evaporates, replaced by shoddy montages and obvious music cues--most glaringly "This Must Be the Place" as Carell wanders onto his old property. It's a sloppy but not unexpected finish for a film that, at its best, straddles the line of convention with a recklessness its schematic script can't sustain.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Warner brings Crazy, Stupid, Love. to Blu-ray in a phenomenally good 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. DP Andrew Dunn (L.A. Story, Gosford Park) has such an idiosyncratic style that I guessed he was the film's cinematographer right away, but it's a style that's been a recipe for small-screen mush until now, with the advent of high-definition video. The image on this disc deftly renders, nay, honours Dunn's trademark intensely-saturated greens, deep blacks, angelic lighting, and love of grain; it looks porous by design, and the presentation is technically flawless. A 5.1 DTS-HD MA track provides surprisingly strong accompaniment given the genre, the scenes at the club--and there are a lot of them--utilizing the entirety of the soundstage. Music has warmth as well as depth, while the mix itself nicely balances dialogue with everything else. (Bonus: it's loud.)
The lightly supplemented package features two disposable segments and a 12-minute chunk of deleted scenes--the latter, like the former, in HD. "Steve and Ryan Walk Into a Bar" (7 mins.) finds Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling riffing on the movie's onscreen nightspot, Plus. Gosling mispronounces drowning "drownding," at once fondly reminding me of my days in the Canadian public-school system and lowering my estimation of his intelligence. "The Player Meets His Match" (6 mins.) is a more conventional making-of, the highlight of which is Emma Stone talking about how quickly her attraction fades when good-looking dumb guys open their mouth. There are one or two noteworthy inclusions among the elisions, such as the payoff to a blatant set up about Carell's Cal being bad at driving in reverse (it's labelled "The Joke Nobody Laughed At") and an alternate ending that calls back lamely to a Dirty Dancing punchline. The expected bit where Cal acquires his sad bachelor pad in the first place is here, too, along with some extra footage of Cal's youngest daughter, who barely got so much as a close-up in the final cut. HiDef trailers for Happy Feet Two and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows cue up on startup; a combination DVD/Digital Copy lurks inside the keepcase. Originally published: November 7, 2011.
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