Crazy, Stupid, Love. should have come out in the fall. This complex dramedy features at least one Oscar-worthy performance and a screenplay that's twelve times smarter than the one being sold in the trailers. But because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems to believe that there are only three months in the movie-watching year--and because Hollywood seems incapable of challenging this notion--I fear this terrific little film will be overlooked in favor of more obvious contenders.
That first problem leads to a second one, also illustrated here: When faced with special projects that don't fit neatly into the five molds marketing departments use to package movies, most studios freeze. There's no indication in the promotional materials that Crazy, Stupid, Love. is anything more than date-night junk food for settled, suburban white people. The poster features a take-off on The Graduate's famous seduction still, along with generic frames of the lead actors smiling or looking appropriately pensive in a perfectly horizontal line of boxes at the bottom--all meant to draw fans of Young Hollywood, Middle-aged-But-Hot-Hollywood, and Kevin Bacon.
But if you've avoided this film because you think it's about Steve Carrell playing his fourth big-screen variation on his Michael Scott character from The Office while getting love tips from a studly, young lothario so that he can win back his ex-wife--well, you're right...and totally wrong. Co-writers/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa play around with the high-concept premise for awhile, before opening up these characters' worlds to reveal a whole cast of secondary players whose storylines comprise roughly half the movie. Like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Crazy, Stupid, Love. takes a small word with huge implications ("family" in that movie, "love" in this one) and explores it through several different kinds of relationships; rarely taking the easy or expected path in doing so.
I'm being deliberately oblique here because at least half of this film's magic comes from the joy of discovery. I will say that Ryan Gosling, as dapper womanizer Jacob, continues his streak of what should be break-out roles. He's so charming, sincere, and funny that it's easy to forget the guy's a scumbag; Gosling, in effect seduces the audience using the same tactics his character employs at the bar he frequents. Fortunately, he's not called upon to have a teary-eyed softening at the end of the picture; a girl named Hannah (Emma Stone) finds his heart and then steals it, but Jacob is still kind of a super-cool jerk when the credits roll.
I would also like to come out as a huge fan of Analeigh Tipton, who plays Jessica, the babysitter for Carrell and Julianne Moore's Cal and Emily Weaver. She has a crush on Cal, and uses the couple's impending divorce as an opportunity to let her feelings show. But again, the creators toy with our expectations: Jessica is not a confident sexpot; she's an awkward high school girl who cares deeply about the Weavers and wrestles with her feelings for a guy who's not just old enough to be her dad, but who is also one of her dad's best friends. Watching Tipton on-screen last night, I got that feeling directors and producers used to describe--of discovering a star, of being in on the ground floor of a bright and promising career (you don't hear people talk about that much anymore, which is sad).
(Almost as impressive is Jonah Bobo as the Weavers' son, Robbie, who reminded me of Patrick Fugit's character in Almost Famous: a lovelorn spectator in a world of mixed-up adults.)
I could go on about the rest of the cast, but I don't need to. It's weird to say, but when you cast certain actors in a film, the default expectation is "Excellent", and that's true here. Even Carrell is great, but I'm pretty sure this is the last of these kinds of films I'm going to let him get away with. There's definitely a lot of late-career Michael Scott in Cal Weaver, which, in some ways, helps make Crazy, Stupid, Love. a mash-up of American Beauty and Date Night. I would love to see Carrell do something different as a performer, instead of signing up to play a tweaked iteration of an archetype he's already perfected.
Perhaps my biggest surprise is that this movie was made by the same people who gave us last year's awful I Love You Phillip Morris. The broad strokes that made it unbearable are evident in Crazy, Stupid, Love., but Ficarra and Requa look to have matured several decades in their understanding of human relationships and tragi-comic filmmaking. Their latest picture isn't perfect (the sub-plot involving Marisa Tomei as Cal's first bar conquest is both wholly unnecessary and upsets the rhythm of a Keyser Soze-level climax-twist; trimming this vestigial tail would have knocked the run-time down to a more manageable level and lessened the blow of the film's Lord of the Rings-style multiple endings ), but it has heart, brains, and insight that Phillip Morris absolutely did not.
Maybe Warner Brothers felt they had a great, mold-breaking film for adults on their hands, but were afraid a fall release would prevent them from recouping the truckloads of money they'd invested on star-power. I can see how putting this kind of movie in theatres at this time of year is a brilliant strategy: There are lots of people who want to go to the movies during the summer, but who don't give a shit about CGI robots or drunk pirates. But by packaging Crazy, Stupid, Love. as alternative summer escapism, the studio has, I think sold one of the year's gems far short--I just hope I'm wrong on this one, and that the movie finds both the audience and acclaim it deserves.
I laughed hard and cried almost as hard at this movie. If that's not the kind of art that warrants recognition from a body of supposedly serious film lovers, I don't know what is.