Saturday, July 30, 2011

Film Review: "Crazy, Stupid, Love" (**)

In a summer where I'm simply begging for a romantic-comedy that takes things seriously, Crazy, Stupid, Love was the biggest opportunity I could have wished for. I often wonder how things that seem so clearly easy to make wonderful take a turn for the worst for no reason. Earlier this week I spoke of how Friends with Benefits managed to be about more than just its title, and that's made it so worthwhile. The problem with this film is that it's entirely too much about its title, and sadly not just the "Love" part.

The film has many different branching subplots, but it starts out with Cal Weaver, a divorced man who is trying to establish himself after his marriage. He ends up forming an unlikely friendship with Jacob, a smooth-talking womanizer who tries to reform Cal to being a more functioning human being. In the meantime, Jacob is falling for beautiful and sassy red-head Hannah, which raises complications late in the game. Also, Cal's son Robbie has a crush on his babysitter Jessica, who coincidentally has a crush on Cal. If this all sounds so predictable and sad, that's because it is.

None of the characters in this film manage to make anything more of themselves than the simple stereotypes they are laid out as. Within the first minutes, we barely get a chance to know these characters, and as such we can't be put in favor of Carell's character, or any character for that matter. They're mostly rather hollow and unassuming, and if the film was attempting to be anything serious, then it certainly failed at that. It becomes very schmaltzy and chipper towards the end, and it ultimately tries to tie things up in a happy little bow of contrived storytelling.

I'll get to what I liked about the film soon enough, but I've still got a few more quibbles I'd like to get out of the way. This film is extremely stylized, as a film like this has to be, but it goes way too far with its flourishes. A recurring motif of foot language plays too obviously and irritatingly to want to read anything into. It's extremely bloated, with at least half an hour that could've been trimmed off of the whole. Somehow the film finds a need to keep going on. And at every turn the intent is muddled by music that never tells you what you're supposed to feel, which is worst than music that tells you exactly what to feel.

Now what can I possibly like about this film? Two name actors who have made an impression with me in the past, and do again despite the horrible film surrounding them. Ryan Gosling has three films coming out this year, and each showcases a wildly different part of his acting repertoire. Here he proves to be really sexy, constantly likable despite the needed cruelty he throws at Cal, and extremely hilarious. It's fantastic that the best comedic performance of the year comes from somebody who hasn't stepped inside one previously in his entire life. Gosling is always a magnet of attention and fascination, and you wish the rest of the film would stack up.

And such a great dancer deserves a great partner, which is offered in the wonderful form of Emma Stone. All the charisma and sass that made her performance in Easy A so endearing is on display here, but she's underserved by the film entirely. The entire first hour almost entirely omits her until she is of use in the chronology of the story. Even once she's a playing factor, you get the impression that Emma is what's fueling her character entirely. All the same, the final thirty minutes almost dilute any identity her character had. Crazy, Stupid, Love simply fails to make the tough choices, and gives these characters a stupid happy ending that they just don't deserve. In more subtle hands, it could've been masterful.

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