“I’m going to help you rediscover your manhood. Do you have any idea where you could have lost it?”
2011 was a great year for Ryan Gosling, propelling him to stardom and making him one of the most desirable men on the planet. The success of Drive brought him to more popular critical acclaim – his performances in Lars and the Real Girl and Half Nelson had previously garnered attention (not to mention an Oscar nomination), but it wasn’t until 2011 that he really became a household name. This is largely due to Crazy, Stupid, Love, where his ridiculously toned physique and smooth-talking charm took centre stage. From his rock-star entrance, a slow-motion, lingering shot exuding sex appeal and confidence, to the indulgent topless shots (“Seriously? It’s like you’re Photoshopped,” one of the characters proclaims), his role seems specifically tailored to make him a heart-throb – and it certainly worked, shattering his previous indie label. Meanwhile, for all the critics who love to claim that he only plays one role – the silent, stoic, sensitive type – this film immediately disproves their argument. Here, he is Jacob, a womanising playboy, abusing his hotness to pick up countless women at bars; a million miles away from the awkward sweetness of Lars or the almost mute lead in Only God Forgives. Yet Crazy, Stupid, Love isn’t really his story – or at least, he’s just part of a much larger spiderweb of relationships, largely centred around the recent disintegration of a long marriage.
The film opens with a declaration at a restaurant; Cal (Steve Carell) and his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) are obviously stuck in a rut, but her sudden admission that she wants a divorce comes as a surprise to the rather downtrodden Cal. This sudden life change sees Cal take refuge in a hip bar, where he tells anyone who’s listening (and a bunch of people who aren’t) about David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), the man who “cuckholded” him by sleeping with Emily. Returning night after night, eventually Jacob (Gosling) can stand it no longer, and decides to take the hapless Cal under his wing, giving him a manly makeover and training him in the ways of promiscuity. Meanwhile, Hannah (Emma Stone) is hoping to get engaged to a sap, having already becoming probably the only female to have ever resisted Jacob’s lines, while Cal’s fourteen year old son, a hopeless romantic, is desperately trying to make his babysitter (Analeigh Tipton, a former runner up in America’s Next Top Model, though don’t let that put you off) fall in love with him – what he doesn’t realise is that she harbours a secret crush on Cal. The film follows this great ensemble through the muddy waters of their various relationships, presenting each development with a suaveness and lightness of touch that transforms what could be a rather generic, silly film into something quite clever, and often very astute.
Carell is great, toning down his performance from, say, The Forty Year Old Virgin and making Cal’s plight both believable and sympathetic. Indeed, the cast is great in general, and are fully supported by the film’s style and script. Writer Dan Fogelman’s dialogue is sharp, funny, and often very sweet, while the progression of the story throws in some unexpected twists and turns, and his understanding of the various dynamics is spot on. Even the childish romance, usually something that turns my stomach and can frequently seem wildly inappropriate when done wrong (a great example of what not to do is Love, Actually) works, primarily because having a crush at fourteen is not unrealistic, and the adults generally do not take it seriously. Of course, there are clichés: it’s inevitable that Jacob should fall for Hannah, considering her initial refusal to be taken in by his charm, for example. Yet whenever it threatens to veer towards generic conclusions, something will happen to let the viewers know that it is fully aware of the conventions (following a unfortunate incident at a parent-teacher meeting, as Cal stands in the car park having just argued with Emily, the sudden downpour causes him to sigh and resignedly acknowledge, “what a cliché”).
While initially Crazy, Stupid, Love seems more like a smart romantic drama with some comedy, as it progresses it wears its comedy heart on its sleeve far more. Events culminate in one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen for years – ridiculous, inevitable, yet completely out of the blue – and, even after repeat viewings, it remains just as hilarious. Fogelman’s script captures, in both a very honest and funny way, a diverse selection of very believable relationships – platonic, old, new, inappropriate, doomed, destined – and unites them all through the Weaver family. Individually, the stories are familiar, but brought together they work seamlessly to create something new, that is always engaging and thoroughly likeable. Gosling’s charisma and, yes, let’s be honest, his body are merely an added bonus.